Alton Brown’s voice was hoarse from three performances at Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show Saturday and from shouting in conversation to fans in the noisy I-X center. But the white Burgundy and clams with foie gras at Greenhouse Tavern that night were going a long way in soothing the chords and the soul.

“I always say, cooking isn’t hard,” he said. “Being organized is what’s hard.”  I’d been planning to write on this very subject and was glad the conversation had turned this way over dinner.  “Cooking is easy, cooking is relaxing,” he went on.  “It’s the not-being-organized that’s so stressful for people.”

If only more people would realize this!  And then act on it!  This first struck me when my friend Russ Parsons disagreed that it was easy to roast a chicken during the week, partly because he seemed to make going to the store to buy the chicken on the way home from work part of the recipe (imagine the food editor of one of the major dailies telling his readers that roast chicken is too hard for them to manage on a weekday night!).  The reason why roasting a chicken on a weeknight was so time consuming for him was not because putting a bird in the oven for an hour was so difficult, it was that he hadn’t bought the chicken ahead of time.

When I go to the grocery store, I rarely buy food for that day, or if I am doing that, I’m also buying tomorrow and the next night’s dinner.  So as I write this today, Sunday afternoon for a Monday post, my plan is to go to the store for bolognese and pasta tonight which I’ll make while I watch Browns lose.  But I’ll also get a chicken to roast tomorrow (and baked potatoes and green beans—everything will be roasted in the same oven).   It’s being a Monday, I’ll use the next 45 minutes to finish work, then prep and cook the beans (they only need twenty minutes in the hot oven) and finish off the dinner (total time needed to preheat oven and cook, 90 minutes, total active work time, 35 minutes).

Tuesday is stir-fry night, so I’ll buy the food for that as well today.  We’re sure to run out of milk or juice or some staple or another by Tuesday or Wednesday.  So that day, I’ll also get dinner for Wednesday and Thursday (soup from Monday’s chicken carcass, and Thursday, some meatless dinner, some sort of legumes, maybe the leftover chickpeas from last week, hearty Brussels sprouts, roasted root vegetables).

So, yes, three visits to the grocery store during the week, but when you plan ahead, cooking healthy good meals for your family is not stressful.  In fact the act of cooking should be relaxing, and the aromas of cooking in your house will actually soothe the people there to smell them.

Monday: Roasted chicken (actually The World’s Most Difficult Roasted Chicken), baked potatoes, green beans roasted with garlic and cumin. Want a different roast chicken recipe, try this one from StayAtStoveDad, a non-fiction editor at the New Yorker, who calls it a great recipe for home cooks who work (take that Parsons!).

Tuesday: Stir-fried beef with bell peppers, basmati rice and pan-steamed snow peas with sesame oil.

Wednesday: Corn-tortilla soup with avocado, diced tomato and cilantro, garlic toast made from an On the Rise baguette.

And seeing that menu, looking at it and thinking about it, I could even prep Tuesday’s stir-fry after I get the Bolognese sauce simmering, cut the meat and veg, pick the snow peas; might as well be doing something relaxing while the Browns go into overtime against the Jets.

That’s another thing cooking does. Takes the edge off the heartbreak.


99 Wonderful responses to “Weekly Menu Planning: Be Organized”

  • Kelly

    Absolutely – I do my weekly menu every weekend to minimize grocery shopping and even include grocery sales circulars when doing the menu. What can today’s roast be used for later in the week and when will I make the stock? Planning! I love to cook and make time for it because it relaxes me.

  • Michele Albert

    I have been made fun of for years for posting my weekly dinner menu in my kitchen. I also list the prep work, in the order it needs to be done, and I try to prep as much of tomorrow’s dinner today as I can. This way when I come home, we have a homecooked meal on the table within 60-90 minutes. Less stress on me, more good food for the family!

  • Carri

    It really becomes a sort of rhythm after you’ve done it this way for a while and that in itself is very comforting. This is what professional cooks can teach the home cook, that a little planning can make all the difference. In life as well as the kitchen!

  • Shai

    I really don’t like it when Chef’s talk about how easy cooking is… Obviously its easy. The hard part is the prep and cleaning up but it probably won’t make a good TV show 😉
    Personally I would love a cooking show that talks almost strictly about using pantry goods and groceries we always have at home or in the freezer to make healthy meals. Part of why I love Alton’s show so much he really makes use of the pantry and emphasizes shelf life allot.

  • Kanani

    I remember my mother making lists to take to the grocery store every Thursday. I’ve pretty much continued on in the same way. I plan several meals ahead of time –my biggest goof can be when I forget to thaw the meat in the fridge the night before! Or if I’m editing a manuscript, and get so deep into it I forget the passing of time. Yup, the roast chicken can later be used in soups or curries. Roast a turkey breast on Sunday, and there’s enough meat there for sandwiches to pack in the kids’ lunches. I think it’s pretty much trying to get into the habit and also keeping good staples on hand both in the pantry and fridge.

  • Paul DeLuca

    I like to look at as multiplication of effort. You can not only plan ahead more effectively for meal ingredients, you also need to plan for prep. What marinades or brines will you need, when do I need to move something from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw, can I prep something ahead of time (diced onions or garlic) that I can have on hand to further reduce my active work time? Even down to the mise en place, being prepared to cook makes the entire process less stressful and more fun.

  • Paul DeLuca

    I like to look at as multiplication of effort. You can not only plan ahead more effectively for meal ingredients, you also need to plan for prep. What marinades or brines will I need, when do I need to move something from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw, can I prep something ahead of time (diced onions or garlic) that I can have on hand to further reduce my active work time? Even down to the mise en place, being prepared to cook makes the entire process less stressful and more fun.

  • Mike V @ DadCooksDinner

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who uses cooking as a distraction from the Browns games. Unfortunately, I made a pork stew, which was done except for the simmering by the end of the first quarter.

    At least it was ready for dinner to help cushion the blow of how overtime ended…

  • Melissa @ The Fresh 20

    As the owner of a healthy meal planning service, I can tell you that making a plan not only relieves stress but also encourages eating as a family. Kids get to see what’s coming up on the menu! Dinner becomes an event rather than a hassle. Planning ahead also gives us the opportunity to buy fresh, unprocessed foods instead of unhealthy “ready to eat” products.

  • Melissa @ The Fresh 20

    As the owner of a healthy meal planning service, I can tell you that making a plan not only relieves stress but also encourages eating as a family. Kids get to see what’s coming up on the menu! Dinner becomes an event rather than a hassle. Planning ahead also gives us the opportunity to buy fresh, unprocessed foods instead of unhealthy ready to eat products.

  • DianasaurDishes

    Planning ahead also helps you save money. We’re on a very tight food budget ($100 a month) and planning our meals in advance helps us not waste food or buy things we don’t really need. Plus knowing what I’m going to make each night means that after a stressful day at work I can just enjoy the cooking and not worry about what I can make w/out having to run to the store. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for what’s scheduled that night, so I just swap two nights and still feel like I have freedom in my cooking.

  • Celeste

    Good ol’ home economics, the forgotten subject: we used to teach people how to run an efficient household, how to budget, how to plan. Can’t we get it back into the curriculum?

    • Kanani

      Sadly, my daughter didn’t even have home economics. They’ve done away with that and all vocational education courses in favor of computer technology. Which, if you think about it, is stupid given that these kids’ brains are hardwired for it already.
      So I’ve made a deal with her. I spend time everyday having her help in the kitchen. She’s also joined the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center Program, and is in their culinary club. You might check them out. Teaching teens to be independent, capable leaders is a benchmark of their Teen Programs.

      • Stephanie Hancock`

        I think my generation was the last with good home ec classes. (I’m 35 and I grew up in a very small town.) My big city counterparts had them, but they didn’t go into as much detail as ours did. We learned about nutrition, planning, sanitation in one semester and basics of sewing/laundry the other semester. Every single person should be able to feed them selves and sew a lost button back on a pair of pants!

    • Beth

      I am right there with you! Managing a household and its finances is so important, and providing nourishing meals for a family is a cornerstone. What is being taught in home ecs these days? Even when I went back in the late 80’s it was how to make pillows in letter-shapes, not on household management.

  • Dan at FoodieLawyer

    I completley agree that planning ahead on meals saves money and minimizes kitchen stress. My wife and I both work full time jobs, and thus we plan our weekly menus and do all of our grocery shopping on Saturdays. Plus, it’s easier for us to reuse leftovers if we have a plan to do so in advance.

  • Moonbeams

    It isn’t rocket science to plan menus and execute them, but the manufacturers of packaged foods would have folk believe that it simply cannot be done. Just check out the television and print ads in magazines – the brainwashing is incredible. Sheesh.

    If people aren’t planning, how do they know what to purchase at the markets? How do they take advantage of grocery specials on meats and vegetables? I have said over and over that I could put a meal on the table in about the same amount of time that it takes someone to make one of those packaged dinners with all the words that I can’t pronounce. I have even proved it on a couple of times.

    • Mantonat

      I don’t usually shop with menus in mind, but I do make a list of things I need for the week. This allow me more flexibility when it comes to shopping for specials – I can buy the items that are on sale and then plan the dishes when I get home. I just try to keep a variety of basics on hand (pasta, rice, corn meal for polenta, quinoa, potatoes), then I buy meats, fish and veggies that are on sale, then I can come up with meals without being locked into recipes that may or may not sound appetizing on a given day. Call it organized improv.

  • Judy

    I’m a chef who works in a grocery store and I constantly marvel at the folks who take 45 minutes or an hour to roam the store on a weeknight and still don’t have any idea what they are gonna have for dinner. They must eat junk from a box at 9pm! 🙂
    The time to make the decision WHAT to have for dinner, at least loosely, is at home. When you get to the store, you can tweak it if something looks especially good, or there is a great ingredient on sale. But you need to have the “bones” of your menu figured out.

    And then write out your shopping list in the order that the store is laid out!

    TO Dan @ FoodieLawyer– Saturday is one of the busiest days at the store. Try shopping in the mid-afternoon if you MUST shop on Saturday, otherwise try Sunday or a mid-week after 6pm. It’s a whole lot easier then.

    • sheiladeedee

      But I love roaming around the supermarket! I find it relaxing. I like to look around at what’s new, see what the seasonal vegetables look like, find the meat or fish that’s on special and plan around that. I do have a running list of what staples I need to buy, but I like to drop in several evenings a week and browse.

  • allen

    A rushed meal is not as enjoyable as a well planned meal, prep work and having everything ready is a big plus when it comes to delicious dinner, I focus usually two days in advance, except for special occasions like anniversary or a birthday, then it’s around a week in advance. My favorite is slow cooked, like a well seasoned pork shoulder for 12 hours in the oven, come home from work and the whole house smells great with lots of meals to be had, or a good cornish game hen that also yields a nice broth for a future soup usually made in the slow cooker my mom bought me around 30 years ago.

  • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

    I’ve got to say, though, that learning how to work fast makes it more enjoyable too.

    I worked at a restaurant for two years in college. Not fine dining, either, mostly sandwiches and appetizers. I didn’t learn any great recipes there — except chili and mac & cheese — but how to work fast has stuck with me.

    Sure, you have to think ahead to get the timing right, but planning for 30 seconds to dice the onion vs. 2 minutes gives you lots more flexibility.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Michael, the clincher here is that you work from the house. When I worked outside the home whether I prepared the chicken or not I still needed the hour -hour and a half for the oven to preheat and the chicken to cook. That’s a lot of time for a family to wait if the mom or dad gets home at 6. Providing they are a 9-5’er, that is.

    • ruhlman

      good point about the preheat! i roasted chicken when I worked outside, but yes, not a meal to fix if you get home from work at 8 pm

    • mike

      Some ovens have a timer that you can set to turn on the oven so that it is ready by the time you are home. Of course you need to be able to predict when you’ll be home…

    • Jodi

      I was thinking the same thing as I read Michael’s entry. By the time I get home from work and the gym at night it is 7:15 and planning a meal that would take 90 minutes to get on the table just wouldn’t work 🙂 The reality is I want something that takes no more than 45 minutes to get to the table. But this makes the planning & organizing part that much more important. With good planning, I am able to prepare a delicious & healthy meal on weeknights – and it doesn’t come out of a box.

  • matt

    This is the only way I cook through the week now, especially with a little kid running around. Saves a ton of time, and I actually find I am more creative. I sit down with a few books and a G&T Friday night, spend an hour looking through recipes, working out dishes for the next week. Saturday morning is shopping, and that generally takes us to Thursday OK, where I stop in a grab a few more things for that night.

    Friday is traditionally a “clean out the fridge” day, where I make a few meals from what is left, and freeze anything else that I can.

  • Susan

    I get ideas while I peruse the upcoming weekly grocery store ads that come in the mail every Tuesday. (Why is there a Wednesday through Tuesday-of-the-following-week grocery store sale schedule? I don’t understand why that particular block of time is important.) Anyway, I do my mental/flexable planning while I shop. Sometimes the sales look good but the meat or certain produce does not, Sometimes a sale and the product is really good so I buy extra to freeze for future meals, so I don’t really get an idea for a daily plan until I make my choices. And then there’s the farmers market. Sometimes my plan revolves around what I find there. Finally, the actual plan is made each moring from what I have finally purchased from any of the above, but it mostly revolves around the most perishable that should be used now. I guess I’m a sort of a shoot from the hip, daily, but prepared, planner! Maybe not…all plans are subject to change by circumstance or whim!

    • Todd

      It’s too difficult to restock and reset the specials at the end of the week.

  • James Rosse

    The problem with this is that I don’t get home until 1800H, EST, and need to be in bed by 2200H. That gives me 4 hours to make dinner, make lunch, do laundry, clean the house, kitchen, whatever needs to be done a night. Intersperse that with 1 night of ambulance duty, one night of firehouse drill, and calls at random. My GF works, as do I.

    If I were to do a roast chicken for dinner one night, given 1 hour of prep time for dinner, I wouldn’t eat until 1900H, EST. That means it’s been 7 hours since my last meal, which doesn’t work.

    I suppose I could give up being a volunteer fireman, and give up being a volunteer EMT, but I don’t see that happening.

    –Jim Rosse

    • Mantonat

      Can’t you have a snack while the chicken is roasting? I agree that I’m usually very hungry when I get home and that waiting for an hour for something to cook can be excruciating, but some cheese and crackers, a handful of nuts, peanutbutter on a piece of toast, or something similar will usually tide me over until dinner is ready. Plus, as Michael says, most of the time is just cooking time, so you can do other stuff while waiting, like getting that laundry going or whatever. And once the chicken’s done, you have a source of quick snacks and leftovers for a few days to come, plus the main elements needed for making chicken soup whenever you want or have time.
      I’ve been trying to walk my dogs more frequently with the end result being that my meals have tended to be the kinds of things that cook slowly while I’m out walking. Dinner’s done when I get back and the dogs are exercised so they don’t bug me for the rest of the night!

  • Chris Brandow

    planning is the only way to go. BUT we aren’t all planners, we don’t all have time to cook all the time without stress. to say or imply otherwise, just pisses me off. and I LOVE to cook. I home cook 5-6 meals out of 7 nights of the week. It is important, but it is hard to do a lot of times. I get home at 5:30 and the three kids need to be getting ready for bed by 6:30-7. I have a 9, 6 and 3 year old. My wife and I both work, and stopping in a couple times a week to the store is also a drag.

    But it IS important, so I do it, gladly. but this whole “People, need to get a grip, cuz with a little planning it is sooooo easy” shtick is getting really old. I love that you are giving us good examples here, but drop the condescension.

    • Celeste

      How about enlisting the 9 year old and the 6 year old in the kitchen? They’re certainly not too young to set the table, make a salad, butter up some garlic bread, open cans using a can opener, fill glasses with ice water, etc. I was raised by two working parents who expected us to help out…

    • Mantonat

      Lots of people say that they don’t have time and their lives are too busy because they have kids. I totally get that, but as a person without kids, I have to say that my life is far too full and busy to be able include children in the schedule. Maybe if I were more organized!

  • Hilary

    I do weekly meal planning as well. Husband & I both work, and we also value the family dinner – meal planning lets us eat together most nights. I also can mix up family favorites with new dishes that may be out of our comfort zone. Luckily the family are always willing to try new things. Also, with the exception of milk (sometimes), I only go to the grocery store once a week. In the summer, I’ll hit the farmers market first thing on a Saturday morning, then come home and plan the week’s meals based on what I bought there.

  • Jason Sandeman

    I see that you are thinking like a chef! My problem is a lack of motivation sometimes, because I think about food ALL THE TIME. I run into trouble there sometimes.

  • Daniel Nunez

    This is a great article. I lost track of managing meals and making a plan, so I definitely will use these strategies to work on meal planning so I dont get stuck ordering in instead of simply making a meal. I think a good step is setting up a wipe-off board on your refrigerator to make note of items you have or that you might need. There should also be a space to write a menu, take notes or encourage family members to write foods they might want.

    Another problem i find, and I’m not too sure if others have this, is that I sometimes can only really figure out what I want to make when I’m at the store, looking at the protein and the produce. I think roasting chicken is the ultimate winner for me when choosing what to do, it never fails on a weeknight despite what others might say.

    Does anyone have suggestions for other types of dishes or “techniques” that are manageable on the weekdays that could be used with a large variety of ingredients? I’m thinking stir fry and such, but what else?

  • Victoria

    Well, I am doing a happy hop all over the room because not only can you cook and write but you use good GRAMMAR! You possessed a gerund!

    I never roasted green beans before. I blanch them like crazy, and I always serve them with a roast chicken because I toss them with chicken fat and Maldon salt when they are done. I think I will try roasting them next time. Sounds delicious.

  • shannon

    I shop once a week to cut down on driving.
    I made a list on my computer of things that we often need. I print it out and cross out the things we don’t need. There is space on the list to add special ingredients for the specific recipes I plan to make that week.

    Shopping efficiently is a balancing act between planning and spontaneity. It saves money to buy things that turn up on sale, even if you had not planned to cook that during the week. I shop at a farmer’s market first and you never know what will be there or what will be a good deal. So you have to be willing to improvise and change the plan if a better idea comes up at the market.

  • Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)

    I understand how many people like to use fresh meat, but we also keep a freezer stocked with cuts of meat. The 2 minutes it takes to retrieve something from the freezer and place it in a bowl of cool water in the morning is far faster than stopping at the store on the way home. We save money stocking up on specials and buying half animals that we store in the freezer too.

  • Caroline

    I always over-organize, and end up wasting a lot of fresh ingredients when I don’t get a chance to make the meals they’re intended for (three hours of commuting every day will do that). A better strategy for me is to shop several times a week so I can pick things up as I need them.

  • AntoniaJames

    Mr. R, I’m also pleased that you used the possessive with a gerund, but I’ve never seen any authority for the use of the verb “possess” in the way you have. But then, I last studied grammar long before many of the readers here were even born . . . . Now, if we could just figure out how to get the entire (well, nearly entire) English-speaking population in the US to stop saying, “If I would have known XX, I would have done YY.” You’ve made some good points on planning and cooking, by the way. Even more interesting is that it even bears discussing. ;o)

  • Marcus

    My wife and I work 9-5 and often get home at 6 or 615. On Sat or Sun we plan a full menu and grocery list for the week. I use an Android app called Grocery IQ to manage the shopping list. If something isn’t in the store I replace it or if something just sounds good I may tweak the menu right there in the store, but mostly we stick to the menu.

    Each night we then cook what is on the menu. Sometimes if we aren’t in the mood, we might swap for another night. There is usually enough variety this hasn’t been a problem.

    We also cook enough to pack for lunch the next day for ourselves and our 1 year-old (the cafeteria menu at her day-care is horrendous).

    We often roast chicken hind-quarters (just salt and pepper). These cook a little faster than a whole chicken, and we prefer the dark meat anyway.

    Other meals: sliced flank steak stir-fry (get the meat dept to slice it); cube steak with mushrooms/onions; pork chops; chicken roasted in different ways (e.g. glaze with a hot pepper sauce and red currant jelly mix); various roasted or pan cooked veggies (sweet potatoes, squash, green things), often tossed with olive oil, salt/pepper and maybe some italian seasoning. One night recently I cooked a pork roast all night while we slept. I dropped it in the sink while getting ready w/cold water (we have well water, its exceptionally cold) to cool off the pan then put the whole thing in the fridge. In addition to having it ready when we got home (just reheat) it kind of worked out in the tradition of confit. We ate that meat for two days and it was all amazing.

    We keep our menu in an ongoing spreadsheet in google Docs, with each week receiving a new tab. This allows us to refer back to prior weeks for inspiration. I usually try to find something new for a given week and some weeks occasionally I just do all new stuff.

  • Kristin

    I couldn’t agree with this more. For years now, I’ve been sitting down once a week and planning out the meals for the week and then buying exactly what I need for those recipes. A lot of people I tell this to think it sounds like a chore, but it saves so much time and stress over the course of the week – I don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner every night after work or whether I’ll have all the ingredients for a recipe. I can’t imagine shopping and cooking any other way now.

  • Kristin

    I couldn’t agree with this more. For years now, I’ve been sitting down once a week and planning out the meals for the week and then buying exactly what I need for those recipes. A lot of people I tell this to think it sounds like a chore, but it saves so much time and stress over the course of the week – I don’t have to worry about what to make for dinner every night after work or whether I’ll have all the ingredients for a recipe. I’m a lot like Hilary above – I like to try some new recipes every week but make family favorites too. I can’t imagine shopping and cooking any other way now.

  • melissa

    This is interesting timing. A friend of mine and I have been cooking up some blog posts on meal planning–hers from a perspective closer to this one (planning meals and then going shopping for them), and mine from the perspective of creating meals from ingredients (i.e. stuff I bought at the market that looked good) rather than buying ingredients for meals I’ve already thought of. Food for thought.

  • Tags

    Relax, 10-6 will probably get them into the playoff, though the uper-Say owl-Bay will be harder to get to without any home games in the playoffs.

  • Lorraine

    We eat simple home-cooked meals every night and yes, organization is key. Though I work from home, my hours are long and I cannot run out in the middle of the week for odd ingredients. So we shop once a week. It’s not a huge shop: We have a small chest freezer stocked with pastured meat. And dairy is delivered once a week from a (fairly) nearby farm. I jot down a weekly menu and my husband shops on the weekend. I try to make at least one dinner in advance on Sunday–chili, soup–and put it aside.

  • Elise

    I’ve done both – planned ahead and bought daily – depending on my lifestyle. Both are different but both have worked for me.

    Growing up and living with my mother she always shopped once a week. We also bought 1/2 a cow at a time and kept it, soups made in huge proportions, fresh frozen sea food, etc. in our two large freezers. When I moved in with my bachelor Dad, he stopped at the store on the way home and grabbed dinner.

    As a SAHM I would plan dinner out with the husband on Thursday night and go shopping on Fridays. Then as a single mother I admit many nights a McMeal was grabbed on the way home from work/daycare/sports. I eventually ended up with someone who came and cooked once a month for us – my favorite period of my life 😉

    When I moved where the nearest grocery store was 10+ miles away and many times I was stuck home in bad weather, I again started shopping once a week – if that much. And now that I’m borrowing a basement and living out of a cooler, I shop at least every two days. If for nothing else than ice (and Hawaiian LifeSavers……).

    It all seems to work but I do agree that planning is best – even if you plan to shop every day 🙂

  • allen

    If you have 1-2 people to cook for cornish game hens make a great meal and cook faster than a whole chicken, instant read thermometer has it being done in about 18 minutes at 425f, with a lovely broth to be had. And if you live on the west coast Grocery Outlet has some great organic game hens for $2.49 from Pennsylvania -nice yellow color and they have the liver, neck and gizzards that I’m saving for pasta, broth and deep fried with hot sauce – a first for me.

  • Arghya Mukherjee

    This is very true; it is also true that most people who cook on a regular basis have internalized the planning process to the point that they take it for granted.
    Not to be a shill, but that was what we started The Unsung Chef for – the realization that the planning and organization aspect was what kept many people from cooking. The planner is not where we would like it to be, but we’re working on it and would appreciate feedback.

  • cybercita

    one of the wonderful advantages of living and working in manhattan is that it’s easy to run into a grocery store and pick up anything needed for that night’s dinner on the way to the subway. so i have gotten into the european habit of shopping for fresh produce every day and stocking up on staples every week or so

  • MessyONE

    I deliberately plan for leftovers. On a weekend – or during the week if I’m working at home – I’ll make a pot of hocks and beans, stew or soup. Something that freezes well. That way, when The Boy is out of town (pretty much every week) or I’m having a studio day, I can just open the freezer and find something for dinner.

    At the moment, I have three chicken carcasses, a package of gizzards and a couple of turkey backs in the freezer waiting to be made into stock. I just have to get myself together to plan a full day at home to make it.

    • Ann

      You don’t need a full day at home to make your stock. I make mine in my 6 quart slow cooker. Its ready to strain, cool and freeze when I get home. I usually do it after dinner, after my little one goes to bed. I ‘m not a huge fan of the slow cooker, but it has its place — soups, stews, chili. I have a variety of sizes, and find they can be a handy kitchen helper.

  • Lyndsay

    I’ve gone so far as to start planning my menu two week’s in advance and its been a lifesaver, Your corn tortiila soup sounds amazing. Could you please, please, please post the instructions for that?

  • John G

    Right now I don’t have beer or cigs to last the week. But I do have odds and ends in the freezer that will take me two paydays so I can make my mortgage payment. No fois gras or truffles, but we will eat good enough.

  • Bunnee

    I plan menus a week in advance and do the shopping list for all the ingredients (including checking the pantry to be sure I have everything). I do most of the shopping in one trip. If we are having seafood, that’s a separate trip so it’s fresh. I also have staples on hand (beans/lentils, carrots, celery, onion, stock, canned tomatoes, etc.) to make a soup if I don’t feel like heading out to the store. I post the menu with reminders to defrost, or make pizza dough in advance or whatever might be necessary prep. Works great – wish I’d started doing this years ago. The stress is not cooking – for me, the stress is wondering what to cook and figuring out if I have the right ingredients.

  • Kimber

    Food preparation and organization begins in the head and can easily be misconstrued while we multitask along our daily course. Best to write it down with mindful perspective. An art teacher once told me, the mind paints before the brush. I find the same applies to cooking. While some may find cooking plans a chore, I find it relaxing, creative and challenging to produce a meal from various provisions to edible delights for oneself and others that are satisfying to the stomach and the soul. Enjoyed the Food Show at the IX center, though missed Alton, there were some mighty good eats to sample!! Kudos to Greenhouse Tavern also! (Just ate there for lunch Friday, splendid stuff !

  • Melissa

    ” and the aromas of cooking in your house will actually soothe the people there to smell them.”


  • Michelle

    Would you believe, I’ve been working on getting my kitchen better organized … cleaning out cabinets and pantry, donating old pots and pans, getting everything ready the holidays. Alton hit the nail on the head, I abhore a disorganized kitchen. So frustrating! So, that is why, whenever I got home from work late Sunday evening and needed to unwind, I put on some music, poured a glass of wine and cleaned out my tiny closet pantry. I find this an immensely pleasurable chore. The look of pantry staples such as pale yellow masa; organic sugar; brown speckled beans; pasta; flour; dried ancho chiles … all lined up in glass jars on crisp, white shelves is so aesthetically pleasing! It really is good for the soul.

  • Wednesday

    For my entire adult life, I’ve made a shopping list with a week’s worth of menus and shopped on Saturday morning. Sunday’s roast usually shows up in Thursday’s soup. The likely-to-spoil-or-wilt vegetables are used early in the week and the hardier fare shows up as Friday’s dinner. I don’t know what I’d do without my crockpot. I’m a single mom who works a pretty fair commute, and I also have evening commitments and a daughter who a) hates most vegetables, b) hates leftovers, and c) hates MCDonald’s. It means I have to be pretty creative.

    When I was married, I would watch my in-laws “run out” to the store after work every single night. They weren’t gourmets trying to get the freshest ingredients. They were just poor planners. Dinner would hardly ever be on the table before 8:30. I couldn’t live like that…I have too many other things to do!

  • bunkycooks

    I often hear friends complaining that they don’t like to cook or have time to cook so they run out every day to purchase prepared foods at the store. I so agree that if they took the amount of time they spend in running to the store every day and planned a few days worth of meals at home, they would be far better off and less stressed. They are always having to worry about “What’s for dinner?” when they could have something in the fridge or freezer to quickly prepare at home that would be much healthier.

  • rockandroller

    “Good ol’ home economics, the forgotten subject: we used to teach people how to run an efficient household, how to budget, how to plan. Can’t we get it back into the curriculum?”


  • Fielding Mellish

    Cheer up, Michael! The Browns arrow is pointed in the right direction…Most promising prospects since the early 1980’s. As for the Jets game, I found that 3/4 of a bottle of Bushmill’s did the trick.

  • Cookin' Canuck

    You hit the nail on the head! The days that I haven’t planned are the days when I end up making something unhealthy and/or unsatisfying for dinner. When I plan ahead, I go through the day with a sense of peace, knowing that the meal has already been made – at least in my head, which is half the battle.

  • Snow

    A little extreme perhaps, but we have an 8 week menu on our fridge. One day a week, usually Saturday, is always open for ‘experimentation’… My good natured wife always eats what I cook 🙂

    • Rhonda

      Tags — mine too.

      Although, I consider my Mother to be more of a Mise “Marshal” and Ruhlman to be more of a Mise “Master”.

      The difference, to me anyways, is the joy and respect for this part of cooking that Michael embraces. And in many respects, it is one of the best parts of cooking!

  • Hema

    I absolutely agree. Sunday morning is spent using about 15-20 mins to plan the week’s dinner menu. This process also involves taking an inventory of my purchases from the Saturday morning farmer’s market. This way, I can almost guarantee that everything purchased from the farmer’s market is used within a week.

  • jbl

    The “total time needed to preheat oven and cook, 90 minutes” is only if the chicken is ALREADY at room temp no?
    Also working from with zero commute time helps in the time saving department.
    So Mr. Ruhlman, what would you do with my weekday schedule (I’m asking sincerely not facetiously)?

    Leave house by 7:20am to be at work by 9:00 (I work 40 miles away).
    Arrive at home at 6:30 if I’m lucky (usually closer to 7:00pm).

    Please factor in: prep, any preheating, and cleaning up (dishes, pots and pans, clearing table) Also..I don’t have a dishwasher.

    I realize that most cooking time is not taken up by the “a la minute” portion (mostly prep and thinking ahead).

    Please advise.

    • ruhlman

      Prep the chicken the night before, salt it truss or stuff a lemon in it and put in a pan in fridge. turn on oven when you get home and put the bird in at the same time.

      • Carri

        Then go have sex, right? Ok, maybe just a glass of wine and a shower, it’s true jbl, you can do this. And probably even make soup the next day by putting the leftovers in a crockpot with some water on low for the day, when you get home, crank it up, throw in some veg and cook another hour, while you…well, you get the idea.

      • kevin Locke

        I like to wash the bird and dry it with paper towels in the morning and leave it in the roasting pan in the frig for the day. When I get home I fire up the range and salt, pepper and truss the bird while the oven warms. Good topic though, I think most cookbooks should be called “recipe” books. Ad Hoc, now there’s a cookbook! Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving.

  • rich sims

    My entire life revolves around list’s, be it shopping or what ever i have to do the next day. Life is so much easier.

  • Blakery

    This is kind of funny to me. I rarely go to the grocery store at all. I generally buy most of my food directly from farmers (and a bit I grow myself), and it’s generally in bulk. So, I have all my meat cured, confit-ed, or frozen, crocks of sauerkraut and pickles, storage veggies, a few are canned or frozen… I basically buy olive oil and salt from the grocery store. I still have to plan, but it’s things like, tomorrow I want to make pot roast, so I have to thaw a roast from the freezer. or remembering to soak beans for the next day. Incidentally I’m not some homesteader with oodles of land and a root cellar. I live in a third floor apartment (I partner with a neighbor for garden space) with my wife who works full time, and I myself am a full-time student, and do incidental jobs. Again, I do plenty of planning, but going to the store for juice is a bit alien to me at this point.

  • luis

    Planning? what is that?……I walk into the store… they all have 2 for 1 specials….so that gets into the fridge….or the pantry. Get a few staples and some interesting items and before you know it we are cooking from whatever we have on hand.
    I can cook a lot of food in one day… then I buy a few bubble pack salads ready made if they look good and If I still need any variety or have the energy to takle it I can make fresh pasta/or even use boxed pasta to create even more food that is destined to be frozen for subsequent days or weeks.
    It’s so easy to stock the freezer with fully cooked meals ready to warm up in the nuwave oven… right from the freezer to the lunch/dinner box. its not even funny. Were it gets a bit planny or tricky is when I need one or more ingredients and I have to come up with substitutes…. i found there are substitutes for nearly everything you can think of?. who knew?

  • Anna Johnston

    Big fan of being prepared, big… huge fan. Can’t understand the whole freak out what to cook thing.., think people, think (& then a little planning) & all you’ve gotta do then is “do”

  • allen

    I make a list from the weekly flyers for my shopping, of course there are impulse buying sprees on occasion, but sticking to the list makes the meals more economical and is usually associated with the season and the bargain of the week.

    I had a 5 year old peal a bunch of garlic cloves for my cornish game hens while I was making a lemon rosemary butter to stuff under the skin, she did a remarkable job, so I handed her the micro plane to zest some lemons and saw her little awkward fingers start to move the zester, I quickly snatched it up knowing the hazards first hand associated with the micro plane, they have skinned by big kielbasa fingers too many times. Knucklehead choice on my part giving her the micro plane, luckily no harm was done and everything came out great.

    • luis

      I want to buy a butchers glove to wear when I am using the mandoline….fast slicing veggies a la….your favorite chef speed.. wonder if they sell such a thing? a nice pair of protective gloves to slice safely?

  • Warner aka ntsc

    My wife has been doing this for years, and I’ve been posting it first as a website and now as a blog since about 2005.

    She does the menu on the weekend, and does the bulk of the shopping on Monday and Tuesday. When we worked the shopping was on the weekend, but since she retired it has simply been easier for her to shop on a weekday.

    This is helped by two large freezers, buying in bulk, intentionally cooking six meals so we have two for left overs later in the week, and two to feed the freezer.

    With thanksgiving coming the freezers are overloaded with food and I still have 3 pates to make and a pork loin to cure and smoke for Canadian bacon.

  • laura

    I don’t know if I’m organized but I’ve always believed that cooking becomes easier if you have a well stocked fridge cupboard. When I go shopping I think about things I want to make but I also pick up long lasting items I like to keep on hand too. I make sure I have a freezer full of meat, chicken stock and homemade tomato sauce. (those things are made once or twice a month) My fridge has a fair number of condiments for ethnic cuisines like Indian and Thai. I like to keep the cupboards stoked with jars of bulk grains and beans and spices, coconut milk etc. This way whatever I’ve picked up at the store or farmers market can usually be turned into something simple or complex depending on how much prep time I have. If none then I can simply roast frozen chicken pieces and veg or salad. This is still good food and takes very little effort or time. As a matter of fact that’s what’s cooking right now. I’m also cooking a piece or two extra for tomorrows lunch.

  • luis

    Exactly my style too…. but there is not that much thought process that goes into that. I see a recipe and I know instantly if can pull it off or not! without a trip to the store.

  • The Woodster

    I confess – I shop daily. Of course, I WORK at the supermarket, so it’s not like I’ve made a special trip or anything. And what I’m buying daily is the veg for the night’s meal. (And, the store is less than a mile from home, a pleasant walk.)

    That said, many of the customers I see have trouble planning a frozen dinner.

  • Teri

    we make a dinner list for a month, we make a shopping list to cover what we need to make that month that will keep the whole month long, meat that can be frozen, noodles etc. then we make a weekly shopping list of the items that have a short shelf life, and then since I have been so good and organized I go to the store daily because nothing on the monthly list is curing my craving!

  • bob del Grosso

    It is amusing to read all of the objections to your assertion that it is no big deal to roast a chicken mid-week when it ought to be obvious that anyone with a modicum of culinary talent could pull it off with like, 35 seconds of planning. It’s also kind of sweet that so many seem to think that you don’t work and have limitless time to screw around in the kitchen. Ruhlman, you are one of the hardest working people I know. How you manage to suffer these diletantes is beyond my comprehension.

    • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

      Getting home from work at 6 p.m. and wanting to feed my kids before 7:30 makes me a dilettante? Okay, if that’s what it means in your world.

      In my world planning means roasting the bird on the weekend and having leftovers for a couple of quick meals during the week. Or doing the chicken in the slow cooker during the week instead of roasting it.

      In my world a dilettante is someone who assumes that everyone else should have the same constraints and priorities as they have

  • luis

    oohhh poor baby….. sure he does, of course he does….besides he really enjoys it and that is obvious. Right now I am stuck with frozen turkey cause the office potluck got cancelled or postponed… cause these are hard times and folks are a little scattered. Like is easy to say roast the baby and freeze it in portions. Oh yeah like that’s gonna help….thinking of boning it… roasting part… sausaging part…grinding part….This is why I name the bird flexy. Cause these days you need to be nimble and flexible in the workplace.
    I am sitting here seriously thinking of making turkey/gravy/cranberry eggrolls to pass out to the troops next Thursday as everyone moves out without a pot luck.
    Come on, tell me again how hard Michael has it….

    • luis

      I mean we are not in the army or anything like that….not even… but if you had to deliver Thanks giving to your people in one byte….I can’t think of anything better than an eggroll or a burrito delivery system.
      Turkey,gravy, stuffing all wrapped in pasta or a flour tortilla with cranberry sauce on the side?? This can happen…

  • luis

    A sushi roll? but not with seaweed euuuuhhhh!….NO!. A Filo roll of Thanksgiving turkey happiness….. This could work.


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