Photo by Angie Tjoelker
I’d be happy to share what I’m currently doing, though it changes often. I love seasonal cooking, so my current recipes depend on the produce available at my farmer’s market and the price of staples at the grocery store. My energy to experiment also varies depending on my life stage. So with two little kids, one of whom is not yet sleeping through the night, and still adjusting to a new cross-cultural situation – let’s just say lately I have gone easy.
To answer your last question, Sarah – I typically shop every two weeks at the grocery store, and every week I hit up the neighborhood farmer’s market. This is one area where I feel very blessed to be living outside the U.S. Fresh produce is extremely cheap here, and it’s available twice weekly at minimum. It’s much healthier, too, because there’s no pesticides, preservatives, or anything, really, but the fruit or veggie itself. Bliss.
Here I am, choosing a head of romaine lettuce.
It’s cherry season right now – the perfect, sweet snack, and a great addition to scones.
But you can easily find local farmer’s markets wherever you are – we went regularly when we lived in Austin. Local Harvest and Farmer’s Market USA both list local markets. Try yours, if you haven’t yet.
Two Week Menu Rotation
So here’s our basic, summer two-week menu plan:
• Monday: Mexican – usually tacos, beans, and rice. I soak pinto beans Sunday evening, and on Monday morning, I start them in the Crock Pot. I make enough to freeze for the following week. I also typically bake an oven-roasted chicken, cube the meat, and divide it into one-cup portions to use throughout this week.
• Tuesday: Pasta – usually chicken fettucine alfredo and salad. Fettucine is very versatile; you can change its flavor easily with different veggies and herbs. It’s also quick and simple. Serving a basic salad keeps the fettucine portions smaller, and therefore, healthier.
• Wednesday: Asian – stir fry. This is my husband’s night to cook dinner, and he’s really good at stir fry. The basic ingredients are the same each time – chicken, rice, and a mix of vegetables (we keep a bag of frozen mixed veggies on hand for those times we’re out of fresh) – but the taste can be altered completely with various sauces. He changes these from week to week, but they’re all made with basic staples we have in stock.
• Friday: Homemade pizza and salad. I adore this easy crust recipe, and I use this sauce recipe. Both can be doubled or tripled, and then frozen for future meals. I like to have five to six portions of these in the freezer, which means I have a slew of Fridays where all I need to do is thaw the dough and sauce, grate cheese, and chop whatever veggies I have on hand in the fridge.
• Sunday: Super-Duper Easy – grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and salad. The soup can also be made in bulk and frozen for future meals.
• Monday: Mexican – chicken fajitas, beans, and rice. I also bake another oven-roasted chicken for the week, like last Monday.
• Tuesday: Pasta – spaghetti and salad. I use a basic tomato sauce recipe I throw together – equal parts tomato paste and water, garlic, fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper, a dash of sugar, and whatever veggies I have on hand. I also put a cup of ground beef in the sauce – I typically brown a kilo of beef and freeze it in one cup portions.
• Wednesday: Asian – stir fry. The same as last week; usually a different sauce, or maybe with noodles instead of rice.
• Thursday: Crock Pot – jambalaya this go around. I like to try a new Crock Pot recipe here, or possibly go with a standby classic I know we love.
• Friday: Homemade pizza and salad.
• Saturday: Anything Goes – I’m trying something new and doing this Mexican Cobb Salad recipe.
• Sunday: Super-Duper Easy – baked potatoes with grilled veggies and salad.
And as I described earlier, I repeat these two weeks at least once, which gives me a full month of dinners planned. If one of the new recipes gets lets than rave reviews, I’ll replace it with one of my basic standbys. In repeating two weeks, we’re eating the same recipes only twice a month. We have stir fry and homemade pizza almost weekly.
After these two weeks, I still keep to the basic structure, just replacing a few recipes for variety.
Keep in mind that none of us are super-picky eaters (well, my three-year-old can be unpredictable, but we don’t alter anything for her), and that this rotation provides enough variety to satisfy us.
So to recap, here’s our basic set-up:
- Mondays: Mexican
- Tuesdays: Pasta
- Wednesdays: Asian/Stir Fry
- Thursdays: Crock Pot
- Fridays: Homemade Pizza
- Saturdays: Something New
- Sundays: Something Easy
Our Grocery List, downloadable as a PDF
I’ve provided my basic grocery list in my new downloads page. Included are the staples I try to have on hand as often as possible, provided the season allows it. I have room to add additional items, of course.
(A note: The list we actually use is slightly different – it’s arranged by aisle of our local grocery store. This was my husband’s brilliant idea, mostly because we unintentionally project our American assumptions on how a grocery store should be arranged, and it therefore takes forever to find anything. Once we took the time to list each item by its aisle, our shopping trip time was literally cut in half.)
Useful Recipe Resources
Lastly, here are some of my favorite places for recipes:
Now it’s your turn – where do you find your favorite recipes online? Do you have any tried and true recipes? What are your tricks and tips for menu planning for a family? Let’s learn from each other.