Planning a weekly dinner menu is an essential part of the cooking for two process. Deciding what you’ll eat throughout the week makes it easier to construct a grocery list and stay within a budget. Know what you’re having for dinner also makes it easier to resist the temptation of going out to eat after a long day of work.
Every week, I set aside about an hour of time to plan the week’s menu. Breakfasts are easy for us; I make a dozen banana-blueberry muffins once a week. Lunches are similarly easy- I cook a big batch of soup and divvy it up into small Pyrex or Ziploc containers. Johnny takes those to work along with a piece of fruit. Since I’m home, I eat sandwiches, soup, or the rare leftovers. Dinners are the only thing I need to put effort into planning.
I look for recipes both online and in cookbooks. I use Pinterest to organize recipes I find online; I have a board for poultry recipes, meatless recipes, beef recipes, et cetera. Pinterest is also an excellent way to keep track of what you’re cooking each week (provided the recipes you use are online, of course). Simply create a board labeled “Dinner Menu, Week of XX” and pin the recipes you’re planning to use there. No hunting around websites or racking your brain trying to remember where you saw a recipe! I frequently use a spiral notebook to write down what I’ve planned to eat for the week. It isn’t fancy, but it’s practical and convenient. I tack the page on the fridge, where I can look at it daily and remind myself of the dinner plan.
Things I take into consideration when planning what to eat are as follows (in no particular order):
- Ingredients: How many ingredients does a recipe have? Will they be difficult to find? Are they expensive? What do I already have on hand?
- Nutrition: Is this recipe good for me? Is the nutrition information provided?
- Preparation: How long does this recipe take to make? Are there a lot of steps involved in preparing it? Do I have to do anything far in advance? Does it require equipment I don’t have?
- Servings: How many people is this recipe designed to feed? Will it be easy to reduce the servings to two?
Ingredients are an important part of recipe selection. If a recipe that yields four servings is reduced, some ingredients are often reduced to weird or inconvenient measurements. For example, a recipe may call for one 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes. When that recipe is halved, you’re suddenly left with half a can of diced tomatoes to find a use for! With careful planning, you can solve this dilemma. Find another recipe in which you can use those tomatoes this week. Trust me, if you store that half-can in the fridge, you’ll forget about it, find it in a month, and be totally grossed out by moldy tomatoes. If a leftover ingredient is something you can’t or don’t want to use right away, it’s very likely you can freeze it. I often cook stir-fries that require fresh ginger. Ginger roots are large, so I simply use what I need, cut the rest into chunks, and freeze it. When I need ginger again, I pull out a chunk.
If a recipe can’t be reduced easily, I don’t use it. If it’s something I absolutely want to make, I plan for the leftovers. Menu planning takes some time and some practice, but it’s well worth it!