Meal planning is a subject I tackled, reluctantly, in The Minimalist Kitchen. My design background taught me not to stop until form meets function. Having one without the other is just something pretty to look at, much like a pile of recipe ideas without the ability to integrate them into the week. But the difficult thing about advising on meal planning is that our lives look so vastly different. What works for one person, might not fit into the lifestyle of the other. There is one universal truth though. Mom-friend after mom-friend said the same thing. “Oh my gosh, 5:30 (dinnertime) arrives by surprise everyday. Like I didn’t know it was coming.” Getting to the dinner table is a seemingly universal struggle.
I’ve found myself saying the same thing about dinnertime since becoming a mom. The only thing that’s worked for me is to give up my romanticized way of cooking without a plan, and make a plan. I do this reluctantly, because I swear I’m still young and free and 24. I do this reluctantly, because I’m a horrible planner. But I do this because I want to get to the dinner table with my people.
Over the next 4 weeks, I’ll be posting meal plans using recipes from my book, highlighting general meal planning advice, an efficient tool, and how to prep in advance where possible (a practice that has saved my dinner-cooking life). But first, I’d like to give a huge thank you to OXO for making The Minimalist Kitchen book tour (online and in real life) possible. I’ve been leaning on their tools since day 1 in my kitchen.
T Baked Falafel (pg. 135) Prep ahead: Make a double batch of falafel and freeze for next week. Make Quick-Pickled Onions in advance.
W Beef Tacos with Chimichurri (pg. 117) Prep ahead: Make Humble Chuck Roast (pg. 119) in advance and freeze into portions for other recipes. Make chimichurri a day in advance.
T Night off
F Chipotle Tortilla Soup (pg. 155)
S Diner-Style or Quinoa Burgers (pg. 125 or 127) Prep ahead: Make a double batch of Quinoa Burgers and freeze. Prep special sauce and quick-pickles in advance.
S Family Style Caesar Salad (pg. 170) Prep ahead: Make croutons and dressing in advance.
Meal Planning is a bit like working out.
You have to force yourself to do it. If you’re new to meal planning, start small. Try planning 3 out of the 7 dinners in advance. If you find success, add an extra planned meal each week. Either way, give yourself a night off (or two) to keep from burnout.
I try to sneak vegetables in to meals as many ways as possible. For this reason, I make a lot of quick-pickled vegetables. It preserves their life too. To efficiently slice and shred veggies, I use the OXO grate and slice. I’ve had it in my kitchen for 2+ years now and use it daily. It replaced my box grater that I only ever used for grating cheese and cleans up so easily.
Recipe from The Minimalist Kitchen. This pasta recipe is salty from the bacon, sweet from the peas and wine, and peppery from the arugula and red pepper flakes. If I’m not serving a side salad, I like to go ahead and top my pasta with greens. They soften slightly from the heat but not to the point of wilty, a texture I don’t care for. I love the efficiency of this recipe—reusing pans and cooking asparagus in the leftover bacon fat. It just works.
3 c. short-grain pasta
kosher salt for salting water
1 c. frozen peas
Bacon + Asparagus:
2 slices bacon
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), woody ends removed, and chopped into 2-inch segments
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
White Wine Sauce:
1 tsbp. salted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c. sweet white wine (like Moscato)
1⁄4 c. heavy cream
3⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
a couple cracks of pepper
1 c. arugula
red pepper flakes
Cook the pasta. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full with water; bring to a boil. Liberally salt the water just before adding in the noodles. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente, stirring in the peas with 4 minutes remaining. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water in a liquid measuring cup.
Meanwhile, cook the bacon. In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove and place on paper towels. Once cooled, chop the bacon. Carefully remove some of the leftover fat in the pan with a paper towel and discard. Add the asparagus and salt to the pan; cook for about 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.
Make the sauce. In the saucepan used to cook the noodles, heat the pan over medium and add the butter. Once melted, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Whisk in the flour until evenly combined and cook for another 30 seconds. Pour in the reserved pasta water, wine, and all the remaining sauce ingredients, and whisk to combine. (If you forgot to reserve the water, it happens, use stock.) Cook for about 3 minutes until thickened. Add the pasta and peas back in. Cook for 2 minutes more to coat the noodles. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
To serve, divide the pasta evenly among plates. Top the pasta with the asparagus, bacon, and arugula. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and red pepper, if desired.
Make this a vegetarian dish by leaving out the bacon. Instead, cook the asparagus in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Prep Time:30 minutes
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I had reviewed your book many months ago as part of a pre release and loved it. ( It was an ebook). I just bought the hard copy and really am enjoying it. So many good ideas. On page 63 you have a ceramic skillet. Can you tell what brand it is?? thanks!!
Oh my gosh, this is so cool to hear! Thank you for reading an early copy and supporting it when it came out too! I didn’t shoot and style the book, which is a good thing because it would still be sitting on my desktop. Ha! But I use a Green Pan. They are super affordable and actually work long term! I have a pan from the Lima line. They also have a couple lines with a white interior finish.
Thank you for coordinating meal plans! Your book is gorgeous. Simplicity at its finest. I’ve made and loved: pancakes, white wine pasta, quinoa bibimbap bowls, and the margarita! I look forward to more printables and any tips you have for Wunderlist.
Wow, this is so cool to hear! Thank you for writing!
How old are your kids??? Do they really eat all of these meals? I appreciate the mom to mom meal planning but this feels totally unrealistic for little ones. As a foodie it’s been really hard to accept that even with frequent exposure to different foods and veg young children really do have more sensitive palates and aren’t always ready to eat these foods. I’m impressed with your recipes, but it doesn’t feel geared towards kids.
Hi Kristin! I have one daughter, age 4.5. Gosh, I hear you. Feeding kids is really hard. Mine is in a particularly picky stage right now. People keep telling me it’s a phase, and I’m hoping it is! She used to eat everything I made without a fuss (many of these recipes). I’ll share with you our approach on feeding her. I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all topic. I’m also aware that we only have 1 child, so that changes the dynamic too. Again, this is just our approach. There are so many different approaches out there. Since she could sit up, we brought her right up to the table, not separate from the table. We invested in a silly expensive Tripp Trapp high chair that we have and still use. We eat dinner together around the table every night. It’s what my parents did for me and my siblings growing up, so it’s what we’ve chosen to do. In this current picky stage, we feed her parts of the meal. I like to think of it as an abbreviation. We also ask her to try everything on her plate. We’ll also offer her raw veggies, because she hates them cooked right now (I’ll pull aside some during cooking), and fruit. Our hope is that this phase will wear off and she’ll begin eating the things she did age 6mo-3.5 years. It was a struggle to find our rhythm when this phase started and some days, it still is. She gets to choose her lunch, so she has some autonomy and control there, which is helpful for her. If she does a good job at dinner, she gets to choose a light dessert, like usually a graham cracker or the pantry oatmeal dough bites from the book.
I’m not part of the mom-club, but at our house we’ve sort of made a date out of our weekly meal-planning. This weekend it was also an excuse to get out of the house post-blizzard! We had pizza at Surly while planning our meals from the bar and stopped at the grocery store on the way home. I’ve even been known to bring a cookbook along sometimes. 🙂 A bit nerdy, but it makes it something to look forward too. (Also helps that both of us like to cook/talk about food!)
What?!!! This is such a good idea! I’m writing it down to find a way to incorporate it. It sounds like it turns some of the drudgery of planning (I’m a really bad planner) and turns it into something to look forward to. Genius!
We did a CSA for fall and winter and were so overwhelmed with veggies that we HAD to start planning to make use of all of them! Making it fun helped a lot and is something we’ve continued. One tip though, if you’re meal planning outside of home, make sure you have a good idea of what’s already stocked to prevent over-buying.
Looks like a great meal week! I need to get better at meal planning!
Just got your book this week on a kindle app (Lead from Cookie + Kate) and am really enjoying purging all the non-essentials from my kitchen!
Questions: For dry ingredients like pancake/waffle mix or cornbread mix, do you still put those in containers? I reference the back for the directions so that feel counter productive- what do you do there? Also, I use a LOT of beans, crushed tomatoes, that kind of thing, so I always have a ton of cans in my cupboard. Any tips on how to make cans look tidier? easier to access?
OH and one more thing, do you have any specific recommendations on what drawer inserts to get to corral utensils? (Spatulas, garlic press, and so forth)
That Cookie and Kate is amazing! Thank you for coming over to say hi and for buying he book! I love your questions. About the mixes, if you’re not using the entire box at a time, then try adding to a clear container. I’d cut out the instructions and tape them to a side of the container. As for cans, I buy mine in bulk (so I don’t run out) and stack them two high in a single row, one behind another. So I have a row of beans, chickpeas, coconut milk, tomatoes, and coconut milk. As for drawer inserts, I use bamboo dividers, which are more like bamboo boxes without a lid, from Target. You can completely customize your drawers with different sizes of dividers. OXO makes some great dividers too that have an expandable feature. Let me know what other questions come up!
Sounds delicious! For some reason the print link is not working. Is it just me? Thanks!
Hi Liz! I need to get this looked at. In the meantime, try hovering lower than the icon and see if that works!
My sister is a new employee, adult services librarian, at The Prescott Library in Prescott, Arizona. I asked her if they could order your book and they did! I’ll be the first one in line to read it and hopefully many others after me!
Yay! Thank you for bringing this into your local library!
In the ingredients list, the first item listed is short-grain pasta. Is that a typo?
The image looks like orecchiette or something. Recipe sounds delicious, could you clarify? Thanks!!
Good question! In the book, I recommend stocking an all-purpose short grain pasta of your choosing for your pantry. I used to stock a ton of varieties and it created a huge storage problem. So feel free to use your favorite short grain pasta of choice!
I think the question was in reference to the fact that “short grain” is not a term that is commonly applied to pasta, but rice. Do you mean whole grain pasta? Short (cut) pasta? Whole grain short pasta?
Hi Zelda! We ended up using short-grain since it’s understood with rice, but I really like the sound of short-cut. It might take some of the confusion out. I talk about it more in-depth in the book, but in this context, I get the confusion. If we ever go through another print of the book, I’ll bring this up!
Do you have a PDF of the pantry/grocery list in the book?
I don’t yet but there may be more printables coming soon!