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We’re changing the way we cook over here at Food52—with articles and recipes and eight weeks of newsletters. (You’ve signed up, right?) I just finished working my way through the first installment on meal planning and decided to give it a whirl myself. Would following these steps really help me get to dinner faster? Here's what I learned.
“Start by choosing just one recipe that you’ll look forward to eating. Say, Garlic Lime Oven-Baked Salmon,” our newsletter leader Sarah Jampel writes. “Pick one recipe for dinner and buy supplemental ingredients that will help you repurpose those leftovers.”
And who doesn’t look forward to salmon? Except, I just had salmon the night before. When in doubt, do as Ina would do: roast chicken. A 4-pound bird can feed a family of four for dinner, or it can feed one person for four meals.
Salt-and-pepper roast chicken. Does it get any better than this? I love chicken so much, I wish I was a chicken (except egg-laying sounds scary). I roast vegetables in the same oven—but on a separate sheet tray, so my chicken has some personal space to get colorful and crispy. After I transfer the chicken to a cutting board, I transfer those vegetables to the chickeny tray and toss them in the fat. I make a vinegary salad to go with everyone. I have all the wine. I love chicken! I love this assignment. I love my life.
Chicken fajitas. Another when-in-doubt moment: make fajitas. There is nothing that can't be improved by caramelized peppers and onions bundled in a warm tortilla. I make my own whole-wheat flour tortillas (something like these) because I find it soothing, and after you make them once, you really can’t go back to store-bought (it goes quicker than you’d think). Anyway, the stack seems excessive next to my two chicken fajitas but these tortillas, too, are all part of the plan. The leftovers go into the freezer for what our Staff Writer Valerio Farris calls "anytime tacos": scrambled eggs, thick yogurt, and salsa for breakfast, or tofu and avocado for lunch.
Pesto pasta with chicken and green beans. Not going to lie—chicken wouldn’t be my first call here. I’d be fine with just green beans. I boil them in the salty, pre-pasta water because no one needs to clean an extra pot on a weeknight. I bet replacing the chicken with hunks of mozzarella would be great. But there is still leftover chicken and we are still eating it. Our newsletter tip highlights green sauce as a way to use up any extra fellows in your fridge. My answer to this is always pesto: any green, any nut, any cheese, all fair game. Just make sure you thin it with enough pasta water to turn it into an emulsified, creamy sauce—that's key.
Chicken salad with Triscuits. I riffed on this potato salad recipe—punchy and bright with mustard and olive oil, celery and capers, pepperoncini and jalapeño pickles. I wish the chicken chunks were tiny Yukon potatoes. Or boiled eggs. Really, anything but chicken.
Sorry, chicken. It's not you—it's me. Because if anyone eats anything enough, it gets old fast. Which brings us to the crux of meal–planning success: space it out! Hence, my revised, should’ve-would’ve-could’ve, week-long meal plan below. Mix up your proteins if you can, or repurpose some (but not all) components of a dish from the night before. You've worked hard to get ahead of your plan, now let your meal plan work for you.
Suggested revised meal plan:
- Saturday dinner: salt-and-pepper roast chicken and schmaltzy root vegetables
- Sunday dinner: rice bowl with schmaltzy root vegetables, crispy fried egg, and yogurt
- Monday dinner: chicken fajitas with caramelized peppers and onions and yogurt
- Tuesday dinner: fried rice with bacon, green beans, (frozen!) peas, and scrambled eggs
- Wednesday dinner: kale pesto pasta with chicken and green beans
- Thursday dinner: quesadillas with kale and caramelized peppers and onions
- Friday dinner: open-faced chicken salad sandwich on thick challah toast with giant salad
What are your best meal planning tricks? Spill the beans in the comments section below!