It’s probably safe to say that I love cooking more than the average person. I’m also a realist, not to mention a busy working mom of three kids, and as such I decided years ago that unless I’m cooking something extravagant for work, our weeknight dinners would be as simple as possible. The goal is to make them well balanced, filling and economical. Then, on the weekend when I can invest a few more hours in the kitchen, I make the time-consuming “fun” dishes that are likely more of a strain on the food budget (i.e. this past weekend we did make-your-own-sushi as a family on Saturday night).
After years of meal planning, I wish the idea of dividing our meals like this (weekday vs. weekend) had occurred to me earlier. It’s such a smart, sanity-saving way to get a good dinner on the table each night, while also satisfying my desire to have fun in the kitchen.
Here’s a look at how I approach these meals each week:
- I tend to plan dinners around “theme” nights. I find it allows me to be a little lazy in my meal planning while also providing some structure and routine for the kids. For example, we usually make a pasta dish on Monday nights. I like to start the week with a simple dinner that will deliver enough leftovers for the next day’s lunches. I also aim for a dish that I know my kids love and will eat. The week can be a slog, and who wants to start it off with battles over food? Pasta often fits the bill perfectly, which is why it’s our go-to Monday night dinner. If you’re feeling ambitious over the weekend, make the sauce on Sunday so it only needs to be reheated Monday evening. This is a move you’ll never regret.
- By the same token, we eat mostly Mexican-inspired dinners on Tuesday (#TacoTuesday!). Doing so means I keep a well-stocked pantry of the ingredients needed to pull off this kind of dinner, again allowing me to come up with a dinner that’s effortless.
- A few months ago I started a new tradition of serving Breakfast for Dinner every Thursday night. The kids go CRAZY for this idea. I started it because our grocery supply is usually running a little low by the end of the week but we almost always have eggs in the fridge or the fixings for pancakes in the pantry.
- Friday night is pizza night in our house. Sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t, it just depends on the week. If you follow this meal plan, choose the option that works best for you. But, if you decide to make homemade pizzas please remember there is no shame in using store-bought dough.
- Lastly, while the idea of Meatless Monday is one I fully endorse, in reality I just try to make sure we do at least one veggie meal a week regardless of which night it falls on.
Below is a weeknight meal plan I’ve put together based on my meal planning methods outlined above. I’ve provided a few suggestions for tasks you can do on the weekend to make the week a little easier, linked to the appropriate recipes where necessary, and even created a grocery list to get you started. Enjoy and good luck!
- Go grocery shopping
- Make an all-purpose vinaigrette and Caesar salad dressing that you can use throughout the week (recipe below)
- Wash and dry greens and cut vegetables for salads
Garden Salad (chopped romaine, cucumber, carrots, radish, red onion, cherry tomato + all-purpose vinaigrette)
Chopped Tomato and Avocado Salad with Cilantro, Red Onion and Feta + All-Purpose Vinaigrette
Kale salad with Sliced Apples, Dried Cranberries and Sunflower Seeds + All-Purpose Vinaigrette
Slow Cooker Bacon and Cheddar Breakfast Potatoes with Scrambled Eggs and Smoothies
Caesar Salad (chopped romaine, croutons, crumbled bacon + Caesar dressing)
Basic All-Purpose Vinaigrette
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place shallots, garlic, mustard, vinegar, water and oil in a lidded jar, close, and shake vigorously until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Salad dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Simple Egg-Free Caesar Salad Dressing
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon anchovy paste
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
3 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a mini food processor and process until smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, mince the garlic and place in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until combined.) Store in the refrigerator in a lidded container for up to 1 week.
The Shopping List
Use our printable shopping list for the recipes linked to above, including both vinaigrettes.