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.