How many of us are starting the new year on a diet? Whether you’re counting carbs, calories, and servings, or just trying to “eat a more healthy diet,” odds are that at least one of your new year’s resolutions involves food. Or maybe you hope to be more organized this year. I’m aiming for both–better eating and a saner schedule—so I’ve been going over our calendar, trying to plan out some healthy, easy to make, and inexpensive meals for the coming weeks. Even if we don’t follow my plan (and I’m quite sure we won’t), having some meal ideas thought out can salvage dinner on those days when it seems I don’t even have time to breathe, much less cook.
I have fun in the kitchen and love to get creative, although there are days when making a bowl of cereal seems like too much effort. I like to experiment, to learn new combinations of flavors, to see how inventive I can get with the odd assortment of ingredients left in the fridge the evening before my weekly trip to the market. Pete and I are pretty adventurous diners, especially when it comes to international cooking. And we like lots of veggies, some meat (usually cut up and mixed into a main dish), whole grains—basically food that’s pretty healthy. We also appreciate lots of variety.
With all that in mind, I have a basic plan I use for inspiration:
- Mondays: fish or pork
- Tuesdays: soup
- Wednesdays: clean out the fridge
- Thursdays: chicken (and go shopping for week)
- Friday: potluck at our small group meeting… I often bring something with lots of veggies, as the group tends toward meat-and-potatoes.
- Saturday: rotate beef, vegetarian, main dish salad, and a once-a-month date when we eat out
- Sunday: we go out to lunch with my elderly dad, and eat the leftovers for dinner
Whenever I feel inspired, I sit down and plan out several weeks’ worth of menus, using this list as a guide. Of course, life happens and plans change. I often improvise depending on what’s on sale, how fresh the veggies look at the market, what the weather is like, whether or not we have any evening commitments, and the whim of the cook.
To give you an idea how this fits into our schedule, here’s a sample menu from one week last fall:
- Monday: Pete worked late. I made my dinner and ate alone, then made his dinner when he got home. Not wanting to make dinner twice, nor serve reheated leftovers, I opted for a salmon burger (purchased frozen and microwaved) on a whole wheat bun, and a Caesar salad. With minimum effort, Pete’s dinner was hot and fresh minutes after he walked in the door.
- Tuesday: the night was cold and we were tired, so I made comfort food: tomato basil bisque and grilled cheese sandwiches (made open-faced in the toaster oven, then smooshed together—this eliminates most of the butter).
- Wednesday: clean out the fridge night. In this case there was leftover taco filling and an open can of refried beans, so I added cheese and shredded lettuce to make tostadas.
- Thursday: my day off work. I had time to marinate chicken satay (recipe follows), and served it with brown rice and stir-fried broccoli with cashews.
- Friday: our weekly small group potluck. I brought cauliflower in cheese sauce.
- Saturday: friends came over for dinner. I made pizza, and let people add their own toppings. Mine had pesto, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, onions, tomatoes, and ham.
- Sunday: take a break.
As promised, here’s my recipe for Chicken Satay:
3–4 lb. boneless chicken, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 C low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar or substitute
1/2 C oil
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. meat tenderizer
Combine all ingredients. Marinate in plastic zip-lock bag in refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours. Thread on skewer and grill or broil until done. Serve with peanut sauce (for dipping, or drizzle over skewers).
1 C water
2/3 C peanut butter
1 tsp. minced or pressed garlic
1-1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or sugar substitute
½ tsp. ground red pepper (or chili paste)
Combine water, peanut butter and garlic in small pan. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, soy sauce and sugar. Season to taste with red pepper. If this gets too thick, thin with water. I prefer chunky peanut butter; if you use smooth, you can always add some chopped peanuts.