I was recently asked by a reader to share what one of my family’s meal plans really looks like. I’ve previously described how I plan the menu even though Daniel cooks our weeknight meals, how from June through November I’m planning around the vegetables we receive from our share in a local organic farm, how I write the menu a few days at a time on a sheet of scrap paper held up with magnets on our steel kitchen cabinet door, and how each of the multi-week menus I’ve posted is based on the weeks that fit on one sheet of paper…but when I write those menu posts, I write out a lot of details about what we ate and why. My actual instructions to Daniel must be much briefer, to fit 3 or 4 weeks on a page–what do they look like?
Well, here you go! Since you’re not Daniel (who isn’t a mind-reader, but after being happily unmarried for 21 years we do think along the same lines) I’ll explain the things that I see need explanation, and I’ll be happy to do more explaining in the comments if you have questions! Recipe links are at the bottom.
Eat’n Park is a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain that has a location near our home. It’s a diner-type family restaurant that has breakfast all day, a great salad bar, veggie burgers, and several fish dishes, as well as stuff we don’t eat. (Yes, I punctuated its name incorrectly on the menu.)
“Kale & carrots” were fried in olive oil with garlic and salt and stuff, maybe oregano.
“Baked beans or tuna” was for a night when 13-month-old Lydia and I were going to be out at Working Moms’ Coffee, so only Daniel and 10-year-old Nicholas would be home for dinner–I suggested a couple of easy-to-cook options for them.
“Salmon” in our home nearly always means canned salmon, which is affordably priced yet is wild Alaskan salmon, a wise choice for our health and the environment. None of us likes eating the bones (even though they’re a good source of calcium–ugh, the texture!) and Daniel does not like removing them, so I usually do that part the night before (see instructions and photo here) and put the salmon in a covered container in the refrigerator. Salmon can be fancied up or just heated; I leave that up to Nicholas, who is consulted by Daniel when he starts cooking.
“Thursday-Sunday: out!” Daniel’s mother likes to treat us to restaurants or take-out when she visits us. She was here for the weekend following the Thursday night when we went to the Carnegie Museum to see the exhibit of antique pocket-watches before it left–to make the most of the museum’s evening hours, we met up at Lydia’s babysitter’s house after work and had a quick dinner at Bagel Factory near the museum.
“Salad w/new veggies” on the third Wednesday marks the beginning of the farm-share season! I knew there’d be salad! There was also a loaf of multi-grain bread from another, nearby farm, so we enjoyed that with our salad.
That was a busy week, the last full week of the school year. Tuesday, the guys ate their leftovers early and went to see the school talent show; Lydia and I got home later. Wednesday, I came home early so we could gobble our peanut tofu salad and get over to the school for the concert in which Nicholas played his clarinet. Thursday was the school carnival with its awesome international buffet—our neighborhood public school has students of many ethnic backgrounds; everyone is invited to bring something for the buffet, where you pay $3 to fill a big plate or $2 for a small. Friday, the friends who go to the park together after school every Friday (weather permitting) and their families got together for a cookout in the park; I volunteered us to bring salad, knowing that the farm at the beginning of the season gives us more lettuce than we can possibly eat!
“Spinach & pecans” were sauteed in olive oil with garlic. This simple-sounding dish is extremely delicious and surprisingly filling!
“Frozen pizza”–yeah, I’m a terrible mother. Well, you see, Daniel was away for the weekend, so I couldn’t plan on any elaborate cooking in case Lydia needed my attention. We buy frozen pizzas from Costco that are all-natural and have plenty of tomato, but they do have a white-flour crust…but, although I didn’t write it down, I added organic spinach! Anyway, Nicholas wound up not eating much pizza because it came out strangely floppy (I thought it was fine) and instead had a Trader Joe’s frozen Paneer Tikka Masala meal. Yeah, another packaged convenience food–it’s healthy! We reuse the plastic dish! Moderation in all things.
“Pizzaria Uno” apparently is actually called Uno Pizzeria or even Uno Chicago Grill, so I got the name wrong and spelled it wrong–anyway, it’s a chain restaurant that we’d never been to, but we got a $10 off coupon in the mail and Nicholas had been asking for pizza since being disappointed by the frozen one. He was not impressed by Uno because they didn’t have “normal pizza” like he wanted. The rest of us enjoyed the meal, but it wasn’t great enough to justify the cost–after the discount, we paid about as much as we would for the table-service restaurants we usually patronize–and it was a lot of white flour. I do want to mention that if you get the roasted eggplant & zucchini sandwich with a side of broccoli, the waitress might look at you funny, but you will get plenty of yummy vegetables in your meal, and you can put the broccoli inside the sandwich to diffuse its saltiness!
I’ve forgotten what “improvise w/new veggies” got us because I was so pleased with the results of “please cook the rhubarb”–what I meant was, “You still haven’t cooked the rhubarb that came in last Wednesday’s farm crate! You said you would! Get on it!” and I expected a simple pot of cooked rhubarb which could be eaten over ice cream for dessert that night and then with yogurt and granola for breakfasts. But when the new farm crate included a second bunch of rhubarb plus a pint of strawberries, Daniel was inspired. He cooked all the rhubarb with some of the berries, modified a pastry recipe to use whole-wheat pastry flour and coconut oil, and made little tarts in mini-muffin pans! Yum! And there was still enough extra cooked rhubarb for several breakfasts.
Aiello’s is a neighborhood pizza place where we finally satisfied Nick’s craving for “normal pizza”.
“Egg & spinach sandwiches” were made by Nicholas, who spontaneously announced that we had a coupon for his dinner-cooking services which he would honor even if we couldn’t find it. Spinach sauteed with garlic, scrambled eggs, and condiments of our choice were served on toasted buns by our 10-year-old chef/waiter. This was his choice of menu–I bumped Sunday’s plan ahead to Monday.
“Tahini dressing (don’t make too much…)” refers to the fact that when Daniel made the previous batch of falafels, he made a really nice dressing but too much of it, and it went bad. This time the quantity was more appropriate. Note that this was a Tuesday when we were desperately attempting to finish all the salad before more salad arrived on Wednesday! We were sick of salads (eating too many raw leaves upsets our digestion) so I gave away the new lettuce to a co-worker.
The second “improvise w/veggies” led to pesto made with basil and garlic scapes from the farm. I forgot to ask Daniel whether the nuts he used were peanuts or sunflower seeds–those were the two options we had in stock. He said he didn’t include any cheese; it was rich enough without! We ate it on pasta. Seems like we had some kind of vegetable as well, maybe something cooked from frozen–I can’t recall.
“LJS” is Long John Silver’s, a special request by Nicholas; we hadn’t eaten there in over a year, and there’s one out in the suburbs where we were doing errands. We counteracted it with a healthy dinner!!
“Red lentil curry” and “spinach” was a planned reprise of what we’d ended up eating the previous Thursday–I’d expected Daniel to take an Herby Version direction with those lentils, but he’d decided to make Indian-ish food. He hadn’t yet added the spinach when I came in, and we’d wound up deciding to try just placing raw shredded spinach in the bowls and putting the lentils on top. Turns out that this steams the spinach just enough, and it’s very, very good–especially with some extra butter and garlic!
- Green Ribbon Lentils
- We usually make falafels from Fantastic Foods mix, which we buy in bulk at the food co-op. But the first time falafels appeared on this menu, Daniel decided to make them from scratch. He and I liked them pretty well, but the kids didn’t.
- Grildebeen Burgers
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Spicy Peanut Sauce