Please help me welcome back menu planning whiz, Leah Eisenberg Polikoff. Last month, she shared the “why” and “how” behind menu planning. This month, she’s digging into the mechanics of menu planning — and sharing an entire month’s worth of menu plans with you. What a gem!
I’m excited to be back at Kosher on a Budget. If you are new to menu planning, here are some quick tips for making dinners easier.
1. Remember that the planned ahead menu needs to be flexible
When I arrive at the grocery store and see that broccoli is on sale, the menu gets tweaked. This can mean something as easy as serving broccoli several times in one week but cooked different ways or replacing a whole meal with broccoli and cheddar soup or beef and broccoli. The key to this always know what you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
2. Prep ahead
Cut up your veggies, get your side dishes together, make your marinades or patties the night before. The more you do ahead of time, the easier your life will be when it’s time to get that meal on the table.
3. The freezer is your friend
Have a favorite soup or dish that you make regularly? Why not make a double batch and put half away in the freezer for another day? This is super easy with soup…double or even triple the recipe and then put it into 3-5 serving size containers. And label everything…I use blue painters tape and a sharpie marker to label everything in my freezer. What, when, meat, dairy, specific heating directions, etc.
4. Not every meal needs to be gourmet
Or a five course meal. It’s okay on any night of the week to put a main course and a vegetable on the table.
Having said all that, I thought it would be best to show you what we ate this past month, so that you can get a sense of my process for menu planning. Our home life is hectic, just like yours, so I wanted you to see how we adapted to more or less people, meetings, lessons, classes, and other things that popped up unexpectedly.
Feel free to take any of these and make them your own.
Sunday – Chicken Wings Baby!
This is a special treat that we eat only a few times a year. I find that if you bake them on 425 degrees they crisp up just like the fried ones.
- Chicken wings three ways — I put them all on baking sheets with salt and pepper and baked them for about an hour. Once they were done, I took them out and divided them into three aluminum tins. One I kept plain, one was covered in hot wing sauce and one in a grainy mustard and maple syrup.
- Vegetable soup (my last container from the freezer…eek!)
- Steamed broccoli – something had to counter balance the wings
Monday – Baked Potato Night
A favorite in our house on a cold night! This is a great meal that can easily be prepared ahead of time. If your oven has a timer, wash and wrap your potatoes in foil and put them in the oven the morning of and set the timer for about 425 degrees for about an hour. Walk in the house at 6:00 and pull dinner right out of the oven nice and hot! Put all of the sides in dishes or leave them in your fridge all gathered together so you don’t have to look into the depths of your fridge for the hiding cheese.
- Baked white and sweet potatoes
- Toppings of shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, broccoli and lentils
Tuesday – Half Fresh, Half from the Freezer
Another easy, make ahead meal and can also be made in the crock pot. My secret here is that whenever I make this dish I made enough sauce that I end of freezing a container of nothing but sauce. On weeks when I know I won’t have the extra 10 minutes to make the sauce, I grab my “pre-made” sauce from the freezer.
- Sweet and sour meatballs — Use ground turkey or beef with your favorite seasonings and then the sauce is 2 cans of tomato sauce and 2 cans of cranberry sauce (the jellied kind). I have also been known to make my own cranberry sauce, puree and use that. (My cranberry sauce is 4 cups cranberries, ¾ cup sugar, 1 cup orange juice. Microwave for 12 minutes total at 3 minute intervals until the cranberries are nice and soft.)
- Brown rice
- Green beans
Wednesday – Remove from Fridge and Cook
This is also known as swim night so we have very little time to eat very early. I buy salmon from Costco, cut and wrap in saran and foil in serving size pieces. The night before, I take out however many pieces I need and let them defrost right on my foiled pan.
- Salmon with EVOO and sea salt
- Frozen tortellini
- Cooked spinach (open bag, toss in bowl with a sprinkle of water and microwave for a few minutes and DONE)
Thursday – LEFTOVER NIGHT!
Thursdays are my night out (class at the gym) so my uncle joins us every week for leftover night. This week everyone had one of their favorite meals to choose from.
Friday – Last Minute Shabbos Thrown Together
We initially had plans with friends but they were cancelled on Thursday evening. Lucky for me, I had chicken in the freezer, soup and side ingredients in the pantry and fridge.
- Homemade challah (taken from my stockpile in the freezer)
- Homemade hummus — I throw the following in my blender and mix: canned chick peas, juice of two lemons, 1 clove garlic, Kosher salt, tahini and olive oil.
- Butternut squash soup — I used to buy fresh squash and peel and slice it. Now I pick up a container or two of pre-cut squash from Costco, it saves time and costs just about the same. I sweat an onion in olive oil and margarine and then add the squash, peeled and diced green applies and a potato or two. Pour enough water or chicken stock to just cover the vegetables and simmer. Add salt, pepper, consommé and a little nutmeg, stick blend and enjoy!
- Sticky chicken — I mixed a packet of onion soup mix with equal parts French salad dressing and apricot jam. Pour it over the chicken and cook…easy and so delicious.
- Uncle Ben’s Rice Pilaf
- Steamed broccoli
- Pumpkin poppers made entirely by my 9-year old
Saturday – Dinner Preparation Turned into a Family Affair
Saturday night dinners are usually very low key and leftover Shabbes goodies but this day my son helped out in the kitchen. I threw all of the meatball ingredients into a bowl and let him go at it. Most of the meat even made it into the sauce pot!
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Steamed broccoli (leftover from Friday’s dinner)
Sunday – SUPERBOWL!
This year we were 3 adults and 6 children ages 5-11. Most of us were in it for the commercials but the kids were there for the veggies and dips.
- Frozen pizza bagels from Costco – I think the great thing about “cheating” and buying frozen pizza is that you can load it up with your favorite toppings.
- Veggie tray (carrots, cucumbers, olives, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas)
- Chips, hummus, dips, homemade guacamole and salsa
- Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
Monday – Ice Skating Lesson Night
This is one of the nights when we walk in the door after 5:00…there is ZERO time for meal prep. I’m all about crock pot meals or something that can sit in the oven all day until the timer turns it on.
- Chili and tortilla chips — This is the leftover chili from last month that was in the freezer but also cooked all day in the crock pot.
- Green beans two ways — Children #1 and #3 only like their vegetables steamed while child #2 and the adults prefer their veggies roasted with a little bit of EVOO and Lawry’s Garlic Salt
Tuesday – Breakfast for Dinner
Tuesday is usually a quiet night at home with only Hebrew school drop off for my eldest. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to cook. Sometimes I go out for dinner with friends and don’t want to miss a good meal at home. Sometimes I just want to make a meal that I know they will all eat!
- Pancakes and syrup – This particular batch of pancakes was made on a Sunday morning when I had time and made a double batch. Once the uneaten ones had cooled off, I put them on parchment paper on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they were frozen, they went into a ziplock bag and labeled.
- Fresh raspberries and blueberries
- Scrambled eggs
Wednesday – Swim Night
Another eat and go night. This meal is even eaten on paper plates so we literally eat and hit the road. I love the protein for the kids before swim team.
- Cold cuts from the butcher
- Carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes
- Leftover fruit from the night before
Thursday – LEFTOVER NIGHT
We do leftover night on Thursdays for several reasons:
1. Is it Friday yet?
2. The fridge is still packed with enough meals from the week.
3. Shabbat prep usually starts Wednesday night and I’d prefer to not have to cook for two nights at the same time.
Friday – Shabbat with Family
This Friday, we were 2 adults and 5 children. With company where there are more kids than adults, the meal is all about kid favorites.
- Challah from the freezer
- Orzo and spinach soup
- Cornflake chicken strips – Another easy dinner with ingredients that I always have in my pantry. I always pick up a box of store brand cornflake cereal, run it through my food processor and put it in Tupperware for later. In another bowl I mix mayonnaise, Mrs. Dash, garlic salt and smoke paprika until it’s nice and flavorful. I schmere a little on my chicken and then roll it in the cornflake crumbs.
- Roasted broccoli
- Maraschino Cherry birthday cupcakes — My 9-year old has decided she wants to be a baker when she grows up so she has taken over making all desserts in the house. She loves it and is s_l_o_w_l_y getting the hang of the cleanup.
Saturday – Dinner with Cousins
One of the girls I grew up has become more of a sister in the last few years. We spend most Saturday afternoon and evenings together and our kids play and love each other like cousins. None of us want to spend our quality time together in the kitchen, we’d much rather watch the kids play together.
- Pizza and salad with leftover Friday night birthday cupcakes
Sunday – Let’s Cook!
This Sunday I decided to cook instead of pulling out leftovers. My boss shared this recipe with me the week before and I spent days thinking about it and just had to try it. Since I always keep ground turkey in the freezer, throwing this dinner together was super easy and delicious.
- Naked eggrolls – I used bagged coleslaw and added sliced mushrooms, bean sprouts and a little teriyaki sauce. This was SO simple and delicious and there was enough for me to take for lunch this week.
- Homemade frozen pot stickers
- Hot and sour soup (from my freezer!)
Monday – Eat and Go
This week we moved our swimming to Monday night. Sandwiches were made ahead of time and all cooked together on the griddle. Everyone likes different cheese (American, Muenster, Colby Jack, etc) and some of us even like veggies in our sandwiches (tomato, green onions).
- Grilled cheese
- Creamy tomato basil soup (G-d bless my giant freezer)
- Cucumber and carrot sticks — These veggies I cut once or twice a week and always keep in the fridge in a large container for snacks or a quick veggie at the dinner table.
Tuesday – She NEEDED Fries
This week, my 5-year old designed her menu around her “need” for French fries. She’s a good eater so I indulged her. It also meant a night filled with protein and foods I could make ahead of time.
- Hamburgers and hot dog — Patties were made the night before and everything was cooked on my grill plate that fits right on my stove top
- French fries, white and sweet potato — Now, I have to admit that I purchased bagged and frozen French fries. In the past, I washed, cut and soaked my own potatoes but have come to realize that as long as the ingredients on the bag don’t list anything beyond potato and salt, why go through the extra work.
- Baked beans
- Sliced carrots, cucumber, tomatoes and pickles
Wednesday – An Old School Favorite
I could use frozen fish and boxed mac and cheese but my girls absolutely love my homemade fish and tartar sauce so the extra 10 minutes of prep is worth it to me.
- Homemade fish sticks and tartar sauce — I love this recipe but find that using small pieces it too much work. I use whatever white fish I have (except tilapia) and keep it in larger pieces. They only cook for about 10 minutes and while they’re in the oven I throw together my tartar sauce.
- Homemade macaroni — This recipe has evolved throughout the years but here is what it looks like today…Make a rue with butter and flour and add about 2 cups of milk and stir until it gets thick. Once it’s thick, add your favorite shredded cheeses, several big dollops of Greek yogurt, salt and stir. Looks too thick? Add more milk. And my secret ingredient to my homemade macaroni…Dijon Mustard. I put a spoonful of it into almost anything!
- Green beans two ways (roasted or steamed)
Thursday – LEFTOVER NIGHT!
Occasionally referred to as “Can I please just have cereal and fruit for dinner” night. As long as I don’t have to pull out a pot or pan, you can eat it on Thursdays…G-d bless the microwave!
Friday – With Friends out of Town
We were out of town for the weekend spending Shabbos with close family friends. It was wonderful to have two nights off from cooking, with great friends and fantastic food.
Monday – Back in Town for Taco Night!
We love taco night in our house and go back and forth between meat tacos and fish tacos. This is a good staple in our house that everyone loves. Some of us break up the shells and make taco salad, some of us load of the shells with meat, rice and veggies. I keep a large bag of frozen corn in my freezer. It’s a great side for any meal and a great addition to taco night.
- Ground turkey tacos with homemade seasoning
- Easy Spanish rice
- Corn, avocado, black olives, lettuce, tomatoes – All veggies are cut ahead of time (except the avocado) and just waiting to be pulled out of the fridge.
Tuesday – Simple Can Also Be Delicious
I’ve discovered over time that not every meal needs to have 6 items on the table; sometimes just their favorite main course and a veggie works well too. I was still exhausted from the weekend away and the dirty laundry that came home with us so this seemed like a perfect time to have a quick, easy and delicious meal.
- Mrs. T’s Pierogis
- Steamed and roasted green beans
Wednesday – We’re Going Out!
A special treat this week…we went to Kosher Subway at the JCC for dinner. A favorite for my kids!
Thursday – LEFTOVER NIGHT!!!
Friday – More Family
We were fortunate to spend Friday night with close family friends. It’s so nice when you can relax on Thursday night knowing that someone else will be cooking your Friday night dinner.
Saturday Night – Grandmother’s Specialties
Both the meatloaf and soup recipes are from my grandmother and staples we grew up on – and easy enough to make up in advance and pull out of your freezer.
- Vegetable Soup — It’s a hearty soup and hides all of the good vegetables that my son would refuse to eat otherwise.
- Steamed broccoli