"Cooking ennui is an inevitable test of your character to which you must rise."
At least that's what my friend Beau, says. Beau cooks a full meal for his wife and kids every night and makes it seem effortless.
"What's your secret?" I ask. "How do you manage to maintain your enthusiasm for cooking when it's so routine? And how do you come up with something to cook every night?"
"The secret is pre-planning for easy predictability occasionally interrupted by novelty," said Beau. "You've got to plan a handful of days at once, so you won't have to think about it all too much. Then, most of those meals have to be things that are relatively easy and well-liked, so going on auto-pilot isn't too taxing. Add one (relatively easy) thing you've been meaning to try (you may have to dig for this: another reason to subscribe to Fine Cooking) that keeps the week from seeming like endless repetition, and you're good. time will pass and suddenly, you'll find you're over the hump. definitely takes deliberate planning and will, though."
Of course, relatively easy is all relative. For me, it means taking out a bowl of cereal and pouring in milk! Maybe some fresh fruit to add some color.
With Beau as an inspiration, I've come up with the following ideas. Keep in mind that I don't practice what I preach, so let me know if you have any ideas to add to my list:
Ten Tips for Easy Meal Planning:
1. Designate a "Meal Planning Day," where you compile a list of recipes and ingredients you'll need for the week. Try to pick at least one recipe that you can incorporate in several meals.
2. Keep your pantry, freezer and refrigerator organized so that you can cross-reference the ingredients needed for a recipe with what you have on hand. Plus, this way you'll be sure to toss old stuff before it becomes rancid.
3. Plan for every night of the week (and lunch if you prepare that too). Try to mix it up so you don't have pasta or red meat two nights in a row. Designate one night "Leftover Night."
4. Create a recipe binder to organize recipes from magazines, friends, and family. We use a photo album to store favorite recipes and keep it handy in the kitchen
5. Rely on old favorites, but be sure to experiment with a new recipe at least once a week. Or else you'll get bored fast.
6. For new recipes, rely on websites such as CookingLight.com, myrecipes.com or allrecipes.com where you can enter a particular ingredient (or a list of ingredients) and get recipe ideas.
7. When in doubt, just cook something. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Make the effort and it will be worth it.
8. It's okay to cheat with household gadgets like a rice cooker, a microwave and a crock pot to speed things up.
9. Cook in bulk and freeze individual portions.
10. Don't feel bad about ordering in or going out to dinner every once in a while. You deserve it!
Now what am I cooking for dinner tonight?