Many people think of weekend warriors as people who exercise like crazy on the weekend. But I’m a weekend warrior in the kitchen! One of my secrets to feeding my family healthy meals — without having to quit my job or give up sleep — is to work ahead. For me, working ahead means starting with a weekly dinner menu. I try to plan my menu for the coming week on Saturday so I can ensure that I have everything I need and so that I can make a list to hit the grocery store, farmers market, and/or specialty retailer. A sample menu might look like this:
- Sunday – Rotisserie Chicken, Salad, and Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Monday – Butternut Squash Soup and Salad with fresh bread
- Tuesday – Salmon with Asian glaze, Steamed Broccoli, and Coconut Basmati Rice
- Wednesday – Chicken Enchiladas with Spicy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Thursday – Breakfast for Supper — Zucchini and Carrot Pancakes, Scrambled Eggs, and Turkey Bacon
- Friday – Takeout
- Saturday – Leftovers
I almost always serve fresh fruit with dinner too. I plan the menu with a mind on what I have in the fridge, pantry and freezer.
After menu planning and gathering my ingredients, Sunday is my big prep day. I chop vegetables, assemble ingredients together, and do much of my baking. I also make stock most weeks from the carcass of the rotisserie chicken we ate the week before. It usually takes me about 2 1/2 hours to get it all done on Sunday, but it saves me a TON of time and aggravation during the week. One major key is to start with the jobs that take the longest and work through to the jobs that are the quickest. Also, be sure to group like tasks together. Here’s an example of last week’s big prep (numbered in order):
- Pull and shred all chicken meat from rotisserie chicken.
- Prep vegetables for various dishes (combining together in separate dishes for quick prep later) and chicken stock — Stock (onion, carrot, celery, garlic), Butternut Squash Soup (butternut squash, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic), Brussels sprouts, broccoli, shred zucchini and carrots, chop watermelon and papaya.
- Assemble and start chicken stock in crock-pot (1 chicken carcass, 1 chopped onion, 1 large chopped carrot, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 teaspoons vinegar, salt and pepper, plus 8 cups water), which will cook untended for 6 on high or 12 hours on low.
- Bake 2 dozen oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. (Other things I might do here are bake bread, bake teething biscuits, make granola or energy bites.)
- Make large batch of smoothies for my little boy and freeze (6 cups, frozen in individual 1 cup freezer bags).
Once everything is prepped, it goes into clear glass containers, separated by dish. When it’s time to cook, I can just pull out the containers and quickly cook. I’m still spending the same amount of total time on cooking, but it’s hugely helpful to spend the time on Sunday when I’ve got extra time than during the week when I have much less time. It’s worth the investment of a couple of hours on the weekend, so that I can be confident in serving my family nutritious, fresh, real food all week.