Weekend Cooking: Menu Planning (and a lentil dal recipe)

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post

I’m trying to organise our cooking adventures so that there is a healthy meal for us to eat every day. With both Joe and me working full-time, we only get Shane from school around 6 and we aim to eat at 6:15, so there really isn’t much time to prepare anything. At least not anything healthy.

I’m lucky in that I can work from home for a few days a week so that helps, but being super-organised is still a must right now.

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been menu planning like crazy. We know exactly what we’ll be eating for all our meals a week in advance. How do I go about this? I start with a loose plan to have each of the following once per week: chicken , fish , maybe meat, lentils/beans and vegetables only. I also always plan in a ‘leftovers’ night and an (optional) going out or takeaway night.

Then I look through my millions of cookbooks and scrapbooked recipes for ideas. That’s the funnest part!

As for actually making the food, knowing what we’re having the next day makes it possible for me to make parts of it the night before.

Oh and I also try to use whatever we have in the house as ingredients, at least as much as possible, to keep grocery costs down.

Sounds obsessive, I know, but it’s really been working for us and I feel so much better about the food that’s available at our house!

Do you plan meals in advance?

So for the recipe – for last week’s lentil/bean meal, I made a fabulous lentil dal, based on this recipe, but tweaked. All of us, including Shane who is two-and-a-half, liked it a lot and I will certainly be making it again. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s super-easy, I promise!

Lentil Dal

1 cup red lentils
fresh (or frozen) ginger, however much you like
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (or less if you don’t love it as much as I do)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp lemon juice
chopped coriander
1 can tomatoes, blitzed in a food processor
mango chutney, to taste
curry paste, optional and to taste

1. Place lentils, ginger, bay leaves and cinnamon in a large pan with 3 cups cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Set aside.

2. Heat the butter in a another pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and garam masala and cook until fragrant. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste.

3. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Add the lentil and mix well. Add the spinach leaves and mix well. Cook until spinach is wilted.

4. Stir in the mango chutney, the curry paste (if using) and the coriander. Reduce heat to low and let the flavors combine.

5. Eat whenever you’re ready! I served it with plain basmati rice, but it would be just as good with naan bread or pitta bread or a grain of some sort.



14 thoughts on “Weekend Cooking: Menu Planning (and a lentil dal recipe)

  1. I love lentils in almost any form and adding chutney, curry, and spinach? I’m there! And there is no such thing as too much garlic as far as I’m concerned.

    I rarely meal plan, but I can certainly see how it’d save time and money.

  2. great recipe! I fully understand your thinking, I have become a master in organising the week’s menu in advance as well. It may sound like an enormous task, but I can assure you at some point you get the hang of it. I now cook three dishes over the weekend plus a soup (or a salad in the summer) , and I’m done for the week! That way, if I get home starving and in need to eat within 15 minutes, I know I don’t have to reach for the chips or the donner pita…

  3. The only time I’ve ever done a true meal plan is for a group camping trip (I wanted to make sure we’d have enough/do it cheaply/have things that needed to be cool in a cooler). But I’m cooking for just me, so it doesn’t seem worth the effort to plan. Good for you – organization like that is a skill!

  4. The only time I’ve done a true meal plan is for group camping trips, but then, I’m cooking for one. I do admire your organizational skills – that’s quite an accomplishment!

  5. Your lentil dal sounds delicious!

    I plan meals. We tend to perfect a recipe and then eat it once or twice a week for years, so that makes it easier. But, then, all of a sudden, we’ll realize we’re in a rut and I’m suddenly perusing cookbooks and blogs for something new to add to the repertoire.

  6. Sounds yummy! I love Indian food, but I haven’t had a lot of luck with lentils outside of soup. I think I buy the wrong kind because the texture always comes out wrong. I’ll try your recipe, though!

  7. This looks so delicious and healthful. Make-ahead cooking became habitual when the children were small, and I still do it today just to keep the freezer stocked and the grocery bill down by buying in bulk. I like Robin Miller’s Quick Fix Meals and the old stand-by Make-a-Mix. Family fare. Nothing fancy.

  8. Good planning! That reminds me I should get back on the menu planning wagon. I used to do it for quite a while and it helped our family’s eating habits a lot, but at some point I kept changing it last minute so much that I dropped it. But it is so helpful when you just don’t have the time to go into wondering what to eat every evening.

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