5-DAY MENU PLAN
1: Rotisserie chicken (store-bought) with roast potatoes and green salad
2: Tapas night: chicken-chickpea salad, potato tortilla, Spanish tomato bread
3: Caesar salad with broiled shrimp
4: Vegetarian stir-fry with tofu
5: Pizza with parsley pesto and mushrooms
If the thought of getting dinner on the table after a long day is overwhelming, you’re not alone. Hopes for an elaborate meal are often shattered by fatigue, homework, cranky kids, and sometimes a second job. Americans are busier than ever, and “the trend has been to make the process of eating easier,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for the NPD group, a national market research company. “Increasingly, people are looking for one-dish meals,” he says. Technically that means lots of ingredients in one pot, but in reality translates to sandwiches.
Sandwiches for dinner isn’t a bad option, but there are so many other ones. We offer a five-day menu plan that begins with a rotisserie chicken from your local supermarket, uses bits of chicken another night, and offers more recipes to make your evenings a little less frantic.
Today’s home cooks find dinner strategies on Facebook, Pinterest, and a myriad of food blogs like Weelicious.com, which celebrates the smallest diners at your table, or Onceamonthmom.com, a site that coaches how to stock the freezer to make weeknight meals a smooth operation.
Many cooks have their own strategies. Elizabeth Navisky, Newton resident and mother of two, makes an egg dish once a week because “eggs are cheap and the kids like it. Breakfast for dinner is a big hit.” When planning, she considers cross-purposing ingredients. “If I am going to buy an herb, I try to think of recipes that use the same herb,” she says.
Framingham mom Jen Mooney says, “I don’t know how anyone cooks five or six meals a week.” Mooney spends her day off preparing two or three dishes — turkey chili, braised beef, black-eyed peas over rice — that can be eaten for lunch and dinner over the course of several days.
My sister-in-law, Elizabeth Goodnick, enjoys the ritual of menu planning and shopping. Before heading out for a week’s groceries, she and her husband map out breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “You have to be in your kitchen when you are planning,” she says. That way, she says, you “know exactly what you have on hand.” A visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, she packs a lunch every day and eats all other meals at home, freezing leftover tortillas on taco night and repurposing them as enchiladas, using up bits of cheese and remnants of tapenade or pesto in panini (yes, sandwiches). Fried rice or stir-fry is on the menu weekly so that no scrap of vegetable in the crisper drawer goes bad.
And of course the home cook’s quickest tool is something the store prepares. Cheat! Store-bought rotisserie chicken can be the jumping-off point for several meals. The first night, roast small potatoes and make a salad. Turn leftover chicken into a zesty Spanish salad with chickpeas for a tapas night later that week. Determined cooks might pull enough off the carcass to toss into a stir-fry with plenty of vegetables. After all that, simmer the bones for soup.
The idea is to make life easier and eat healthful meals. You might not get around to homemade soup or your own dressing this week — or even this year. What counts is that there’s something on the table, and the family is around it.