We interrupt the Halloween merriment to get a handle on menu planning. After all, how can you get decorations up and costumes made if you’re floundering with the “what’s for dinner” question every night?!
Monday: Herbed chicken breast, savory mashed sweet potatoes, green beans
So, the sweet potatoes were supposed to the Garlic-Herb Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Parmesan from Cooking Classy. Instead, I was scrambling to finish the outdoor decorating before I lost the light (hah! didn’t exactly happen that way, but it got done), so I didn’t start dinner until almost 8pm. Not wanting to wait on roasting the sweet potatoes, I popped them into the microwave on the magical “potato” setting (seriously, best thing about our new microwave) and whipped them up with the herbs and Parmesan that the original recipe called for. Just as tasty in half the time.
Tuesday: Dinner out @ Northside Pies in Tallahassee, FL
I’ll do a proper write-up of Northside Pies one of these days, but our monthly meet-up there with friends was fun as always. Even though their menu doesn’t mention it, theyÂ do carry a gluten-free pizza crust in the 10″ size, though their salads aren’t bad at all if you’d rather not. I opted for the Figure 4, this week,Â and a Black Julep (copycat recipe to come on that one, it was so good!) cocktail. Since the fresh garlic was very large and in charge, along with the figs (both High-FODMAP ingredients), I only ate half while there and was fine. (It was only after I scarfed the other half after getting home that there were issues. Oh, well, it was worth it!)
Wednesday: Bang Bang Shrimp, coconut rice, and garlic spinach
If you have ever been to Bonefish Grill and tasted their signature shrimp dish, yes, this is virtually the same thing and so worth the effort, even the deep frying, on a weekday night. I used the copycat recipe from Fake Ginger and substituted gf flour and breadcrumbs where applicable. Point one: No recipe ever seems to allow enough breading material–I had to triple it, in the end, to do a pound of medium shrimp (enough for four servings). Point two: though it seems odd to do a back-and-forth breading like this, it actually worked really well, so I’m glad I harnessed my natural inclination to switch to a more traditional 3-step breading.
Thursday: Pepperoni Pizza Pasta and a green salad
Based on A Night Owl’s One Pot Pizza Rigatoni, this seemed like a quick and easy option, even if mine was more of a two-pot, slightly more involved version. First, I don’t trust gluten free pastas in a toss it all together and cook situation–there’s just way too high a chance for error. Second, I was going for a more budget-friendly meal so used the ground beef we already had in the freezer and a quick sauce made in the pan (rather than purchasing a $9 jar of Rao’s Sensitive Formula Marinara). I also didn’t put it under the broiler to finish, just put the lid on after combining the sauce and pasta and topping it with the mozzarella and reserved (turkey) pepperoni. Still excellent!
Friday: Fish Taco Nachos
Nacho night! I’s been thinking of doing fish tacos at some point, but the fiddliness of it all just made me not want to, but fish taco nachos–why not?! I seasoned some rice flour with cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, salt, and black pepper and dredged the tuna steaks in it before searing in garlic olive oil, crumbling the tuna steaks once they’d cooled enough to handle. Then I built the pan of nachos with my sweet potato refried bean substitute, shredded fiesta cheese blend, and green onions; topping with shredded cabbage and an avocado crema once they were out of the oven. We like to just take the whole pan to the coffee table and munch while catching up with our shows on Hulu.
Saturday: Waffles, Eggs & Bacon
I kept putting off trying the whipped egg white waffles I’ve seen in several places, but that’s also what the Pamela’s mix called for so I gave it a shot. Dude… such amazing gluten-free waffles we’ve never made or tasted elsewhere. The egg whites were so worth it! I don’t see us going back to the old way any time soon!
Sunday: Pot Roast, Potatoes and Carrots
One-pot slow-cooker perfection for a Sunday supper. And, no, I don’t fool with the canned soup or dry soup mixes, I just add salt, pepper, garlic oil, Worcestershire sauce and a little parsley and it’s good to go. We have a few pieces of the roast leftover after making up the lunches and I’d be lying if I said debris fries weren’t a distinct possibility.
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Two weeks ago, when I posted my last On the Plate, several readers remarked about needing to meal plan more often or otherwise not being able to make the time to do it. So here’s my process for putting together a week’s menu, in the hopes that it’ll help those of you still on the fence or wondering where to start.
- Inspiration sources. I “save for later” anything I find possibly interesting while going through my blog feeds in Feedly. This way, when I sit down to menu plan, I can click on the sidebar link and scroll through easily. If something sounds good, I decide what day it’ll be best on and plug it into my Google Drive document. Pinterest is another good inspiration source, naturally, so if I know I’ve pinned something over the last couple of weeks, I go check there to refresh my memory. And, then, there’s always grabbing a cookbook off the shelf at random and thumbing through until something catches my eye (or going straight to the post-it notes if I’ve already flagged things in the book). Checking your store’s sale paper online is also a good way to dream up dinner ideas.
- Inventory. “Shopping” the pantry and freezer to see what we have on hand not only reduces the chances of over-buying but also tells me if something needs to be used up before it goes bad. We stock up on meats every couple of months at Sam’s club, so looking to see what we have left usually grants a certain amount of direction.
- Routine. We don’t tend to follow a prescribed schedule on what to eat on what days, but if that helps you, use it! Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. can make things a lot easierÂ and it helps set expectations among the family. Our routine is more along the lines of knowing that we’ll cycle through the main proteins of any given week (pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs, beef, fish or shrimp) plus a breakfast for dinner night and maybe a meatless meal. So if I’m planning and I have a few spots to fill, I run through the list and see what’s “missing.”
- Favorites. We don’t eat the same thing each week, but we do have certain favorites that we fall back on to fill menu gaps. For me, it’s most often Sushi bowls, for Todd it’s Jambalaya or a Shrimp and Orzo dish we both loved from our Menu Mailer days.
- Balance. Don’t plan multiple ingredient or technique-heavy items in the same meal. Just don’t do that to yourself! Take, for instance, Bang Bang Shrimp. That requires a sauce, breading, and deep frying. No way was I going to, say, make handmade spring rolls on top of that! Instead, I made coconut rice (1 can of coconut milk, 1 can of water, 1 1/2 cups white rice) in the rice cooker and put some frozen spinach in a pot on the stove with some water and garlic oil to simmer until done. Keep in mind what preparation each item needs, and swap out something if you’ve got two heavy hitters in one meal.
I hope these tips helped you get a handle on weekly meal planning. If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed at the process but want more organization to your dinners, there are services out there to help! Three we’ve used in the past (yes, even a former chef doesn’t always want to think about what to make every night) are Menu MailerÂ ($21/quarter and up), eMeals ($39/quarter), and Paleo PlanÂ ($9.99/month). Menu Mailer and eMeals also offer shopping lists as part of the weekly planning service, I don’t think Paleo Plan does, but it’s been a while since I’ve used any of them.