As I continue to try and plan weeknight dinners in advance, I’ve found that my use-what’s-in-the-pantry skills are getting a lot better. I hate wasting food, so this is a good thing. It’s also helpful when I won’t be able to make it to the grocery store for a couple days and need to improvise.
I’ve moved away from using The Fresh 20 exclusively, though I am still cherry-picking a couple recipes from it each week. For one thing I haven’t been as wild about their summer menus, because they’re not including anything that requires using the oven until after Labor Day. I understand the rationale, but in lieu of the oven the recipes rely heavily on the use of a grill, and we don’t have an outdoor grill. Using the indoor grill pan produces great results but frankly it makes the kitchen just as sweltering as using the oven, plus it’s hella smoky; also cleaning up after it is a huge pain.
In any event, I’m using The Fresh 20, issues of Bon Appetit and All You, and a couple of email subscriptions (like Food 52 and the Allrecipes What’s Cooking). All You has been a nice surprise, because while you will find a fair number of things oriented toward kids or focused on convenience foods, they also emphasize value and simplicity. I’ve made their carrot ginger soup two or three times and was a big fan of a grilled vegetable pasta salad I found in there.
It’s kind of a nice routine to sit down with a couple of magazines and the iPad on Sunday afternoon and plan the week’s menus and make a grocery list. I order most of my produce through our weekly delivery service at work, so that makes things a little more convenient.
I think meal planning gets a little overwhelming if you think about it too much—oh man I gotta do this every week for the rest of MY LIFE—so it’s important to give yourself a vacation from it now and then. It’s all right to plan on carryout one night, or to fall back on something like pasta or grilled cheese. I like to keep pasta, black beans, a carton of tomato-basil or butternut squash soup and other nonperishable items that can stand in when I’m lazy or low on produce or simply need a break. If you’re a meat-eater it’s also nice to lessen your reliance on it from week to week, or at least, I think so…especially in the summer.