Tips and Tricks for Weeknight Meal Planning

February 19, 2020

In a former life I was a professional cook, and I'm now getting my Masters degree in Food Studies at NYU and raising three children. If you have a long workday, family hellish commute, or all of the above, dinnertime can be a source of daily dread. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tricks that make beautiful use of our weekly Local Roots organic vegetables and eggs.

Written by Local Roots NYers @Butteredbreadblog

1. Prep ahead: Grains, beans, and potatoes can all be cooked ahead on Sunday night and used to build dinners—or take-to-work lunches—throughout the week. Cooked quinoa or, say, farro can become build-your-own grain bowls or grain-based salads, incorporating whatever colorful veggies you have in your fridge. A popular one in my house is “D.I.Y. burrito bowl night” which simply means I’ve plunked down some heated leftover rice, seasoned black beans, sliced avocado and other fixins, handed out bowls, and let everyone fend for themselves (don’t tell my kids, though!)
Pair grains with Asian Braised Beef

2. Make bigger batches: Certain foods keep well and, in some cases, get better over the next few days. Roast a whole Local Roots chicken and repurpose it in a veggie- and bean-filled minestrone soup during the week. Braised meat and beans can be reinvented as taco fillings or in a simple pasta dish another night, with a vegetable or two in supporting roles. Or, freeze portions to defrost in the coming weeks; in general, liquid-based meals such as stews and soups freeze beautifully and keep for up to 6 months, frozen. Just be sure to label frozen meals so you're able to easily identify the dish.

Cook a big batch of meat and pair with a Purple Kale and Mustard Greens Jam Salad

3. Sauces are your secret weapons: Have at least one great sauce in your fridge or freezer and you can pull together a meal or dress up leftovers with style. Pestos made from surplus greens and herbs are always winners and keep for a long time in jars with a thin layer of oil on the surface. Even better, you can freeze them in ice trays and pop out a cube to defrost as needed. You don't even need a huge blender to make pestos; I love the Philips Immersion Hand Blender because it's super powerful and stores easily in the drawer. 

Other back-pocket sauces include tzatziki, tomato sauce, aioli, or a simple curry yogurt. Vinaigrettes also fall into this category, and you’ll save time and kitchen mess by making a jar at the beginning of the week.

4. Umami is your friend: Did you know that many common pantry staples are high in savory, flavor-enhancing (umami) qualities and can transform simple recipes into pro-level deliciousness? You may already be using them without even realizing it. Anchovies and Parmigiano rinds are two of my favorites. Parmigiano rinds simmer in bean-based soups and take them to the next level, while anchovies make dressings and pastas irresistible (and in small amounts don’t taste like anchovies). Other umami-rich foods include bacon, kimchi, and tomato paste—or for vegan folks miso, nutritional yeast, dried mushrooms, and sea vegetables

5. Stock up: Always keep stocks and broths on hand, as they make it a cinch to pull together soups, noodle bowls, and sauces. I save up my vegetable scraps and chicken bones in the freezer and make a stock out of them once they reach critical mass. Freeze stock in ice cube trays to pop out as needed. If you’re not up for making homemade stock, you can usually find good-quality product in your market. Just watch out for excess sodium and sugar in some brands.
Use homemade or vegetarian stock to make our super easy Whole 30 Ginger Broth Bowl

6. There’s an app for that: Though I tend to cook on the spontaneous side, there is a whole host of apps out there to help with meal planning, recipe management, and overall organization. Some friends swear by apps and sites like Six O’Clock Scramble, The Recipe Box, and Mealime. I also quite like the cookbook A New Way to Dinner, by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, which helps you look at one meal as the basis for multiple variations throughout the week.

7. When all else fails, breakfast for dinner: There has been many a night when I can’t think about dinner until 6:59 PM, my mind goes blank, and then it hits me like a thunderbolt: breakfast! The response to this in my house is usually unbridled enthusiasm. After all, who can’t get behind evening pancakes or a full English fry-up? Better yet, get out your skillet and pull together a frittata using that half an onion, semi-wilted greens, leftover roasted potatoes and whatever random vegetables you have in your crisper drawer. Stir in whisked eggs and a generous grating of those forgotten bits and bobs of cheese, and you’ve just put a dent in food waste while creating something fantastic and nutritious.

Perfect breakfast for dinner with pasture raised, all-natural eggs for that golden pop of color, creamy texture, and vibrant yummy flavor! Available as a weekly half-dozen or dozen egg subscription all-year round.

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