That time of the week?
As the weekend draws to a close, the sound of an overloaded washing machine (or is that just me?) whirls away in the kitchen, children’s protests over homework escalate to a crescendo, and I know that one of my favourite times of the week is but minutes away. When the house is finally quiet, I pour a glass of wine – or cheeky G&T – and sit back to plan what everyone in TLCC family is going to be feasting on for the next week.
Recently however, I have discovered that my druthers does not hold the same allure for many of my friends, and so I thought it might be helpful to unpick how to meal plan, without the stress. In bullet points, if you will…
1. I only ever plan 5 days. The weekend can vary so much – impromptu dinner party, hastily arranged Sunday lunch with friends or family – that I find it impossible to shop on Monday for Sunday’s roast. And as I am fortunate enough to have my husband at home on the weekend, I actually don’t need to as there’s no better escape from squabbling children than a quick nip to the shops.
2. I absolutely loathe throwing away food, and so my starting point is always the fridge. Is there anything lurking that needs to be used up? Equally, is there anything in the freezer that could do with being eaten? (For the last few weeks, Waitrose has had whole ducks on sale for half price and so I have three squirreled away in the freezer. Advanced warning: do not be surprised if le canard features heavily in my menus over the next month or so.)
3. Next, I have a look at my diary. Which days do I need supper on the table in under 20 minutes, and when do I have a little longer to chop, prep & stir?
4. Getting the nutrients in: whilst we are not a vegetarian household, we do eat a largely plant-based diet. This has the benefit of keeping the grocery bills relatively low, but it does mean that I need to spend some time ensuring that we are all getting enough protein in our diets. So, for a normal week, I aim to plan one purely vegetarian meal, one fish or seafood, one serving of poultry and one of red meat. Then I have one day which is usually veggie for me, but can be tarted up to pacify the meat-lovers of the family by throwing in some diced pancetta, shredded chicken, or chunks of spicy chorizo.
5. Keep in mind the food miles. While no one would argue that it is a real treat to enjoy a juicy, ripe fig chopped up in a salad on a dreary January lunchtime, it really isn’t the most sensible idea as a) it probably won’t actually be very ripe and b) you’ll pay through the nose for it. Try and base your meals around foods that are seasonal and abundant. This time of year, we are enjoying all sorts of sweet root vegetables, brassicas bursting with Vitamin C and plenty of iron-rich leafy greens. We’re giving expensive Southern hemisphere strawberries and soft fruit a wide berth and crunching our way through bags of British apples and pears. Oh – and delighting in the arrival of juicy Navel and beautiful blood oranges.
6. Lastly – the inspiration. With any new cookbook or food magazine, I like to thumb through and stick a post-it on any recipes that stand out. Similarly, any blog posts featuring delicious looking dishes are filed for Sunday night reading. Aim to try at least one new recipe a week, and don’t be afraid to experiment a little. No spinach? Sub for spring greens, Brussels sprout tops or kale. Fancy a change from white rice? Try a wholegrain & wild rice mix, pearl barley or even farro. Looking for a way to get a few more nutrients into skeptical kids – stir some steamed celeriac, cauliflower or sweet potato into your usual mash.
7. The practical. So armed with my list of wilting veggies, knowledge of seasonal fare and recipe ideas, I set out to connect the dots. For example…
Monday – quick meal, using leftover veg from the weekend
Tuesday – time during the morning to cook, slow roasted something or other
Wednesday – husband out, meat-free feast for me
Thursday – busy morning but time in the afternoon to prep, family’s favourite fish
Friday – relaxed afternoon, something special for supper
Now, I appreciate that not everyone delights in spending half an hour deliberating about what to put on the table each night. However, with a little advanced thought and planning , you will hopefully find 5pm stress levels reduced, less food waste and, best of all, an immediate response to the question you all (used to) dread, “Muuuuuuuuuuuum [insert relevant title], what’s for supper?”