Cooking By Theme, Redux

If you’ve read my no-plan meal planning post, you know that I’m a fan of cooking by theme. That hasn’t changed. What has changed a little since then is the nightly themes. 

If you’re unaware, cooking by theme means assigning each night a theme (e.g. Monday is pasta, etc). This helps those of us who aren’t great at planning ahead have a game plan in place, and it minimizes the dreaded deciding of what to have for dinner—which is the hardest part sometimes, isn’t it?

The themes that work for me probably won’t be best for you, because we all have different schedules, routines, habits, and preferences. Some people like to do a big cooking day on Sunday. Others have evening commitments on certain days during the week. Still others may not follow the Monday to Friday work or school week. If you’d like to experiment with the cooking-by-themes approach, I invite you to take what works, discard the rest, and tinker as you go. 

Oh, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t do most of the cooking and food management in our home because I’m a woman. I do it because I love to do it. My husband is my equal partner in all things family and home, and we divide tasks according to what we like and are good at. We prefer to have our little domains that we’re responsible for, which saves us from constantly consulting with each other about tedious little things, and leaves us more time and mental bandwidth for things that matter more to us. I really want to make that clear because I don’t think this kind of domestic labour should fall to women automatically, although of course it does

With that little disclaimer/rant out of the way, here’s how our weeks break down these days, and why:

Mondays are pasta. Pasta is generally super easy and fast to make, requiring few parts, which I appreciate on that weekend shoulder day. We really s-l-o-w it down on weekends and often eat at strange times (brunch and linner, anyone?), and I don’t shift from zero to 100 very well. So on Mondays boiling some noodles and putting a sauce on them feels about the right speed. Some of our fave pasta dishes: pasta in cream sauce, lentil-walnut bolognese, pesto pasta, and basil cream pasta

Tuesdays are bowls. Bowls require a few more pots and pans and a little more consideration. I can handle this on Tuesdays when I’m fully into weekday mode, and energy and creativity are running high. I also like doing bowls on Tuesday because I can make extra parts, which can be repurposed throughout the rest of the week for quick at-home and packed lunches. There are infinite combinations of delicious potential bowls; here’s a primer to get you started. 

Wednesdays are one-pot meals. For one thing, I like the alliteration of “one-pot Wednesdays,” because I’m a certified nerd. Actually, I guess that’s the main reason. Some people prefer to make big pots of things on Sundays when they have more time, but I tried that and found I didn’t get around to it most of the time, because Sundays seem to disappear into a happy void of family adventures and errands. As always, your mileage may vary. A few fave one-pot meals are chickpea or lentil curry, lentil or bean or potato soup, and African peanut stew, all of which can be made in 30 minutes or less. 

Thursdays are stir fries. Stir fries take 15 minutes or less to make, which is key for me when we’re just trying to make it across the finish line. (This post makes it sound like my “week” actually only consists of Tuesday and Wednesday, which is kind of embarrassing and only half true.) Also, you can throw in any veggies that are sitting in the fridge looking forlorn, or alternatively, you can make it from just about anything when you have almost no food left. I often make noodle stir fries (like pad Thai and peanut noodles), which don’t make the best leftovers—but it doesn’t matter on Thursdays, because we already have leftovers from Tuesday and Wednesday for the next day. 

Fridays are free for all / fun Fridays. See: alliteration nerd. We will raid the fridge for leftovers, see friends for a low-key meal in or out, make burgers from the freezer, or put out a table of snacks, like hummus, veggies, smoked tofu, olives, crackers and fermented grapes (wine. I’m talking about wine). 

Weekends are totally unstructured. Arden often makes pancakes or French toast for brunch. Like Friday evenings, we work our way through any remaining leftovers, dine with friends or family at their place or ours, eat out, pick up a loaf of sourdough to have with hummus or peanut butter, and just generally fly by the seat of our pants. I end the weekend feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another week… starting with the on-ramp easy Monday pasta meal.

Let me know how you organize your meals! Do you plan ahead? Split it with a partner? Panic at 5:30 and just dish up some cereal? I’d love to hear.