A few weeks ago, I said that I’d be making an effort to share more about my batch cooking and menu planning process for each week. I have been known from time to time to make big promises about new blogging initiatives, and then fall short. In fact, sharing my menu planning/batch cooking process was something I swore I’d do during my post-bacc…but it never quite materialized as planned.
My masters program right now feels really different from the post-bacc in that I made a conscious choice to go part-time. This means that I have greater control over my schedule and a lot more space for work. Having explored the grad school waters once before, I also have a more clear-headed, strategic approach to my studies, and this approach seems to be bleeding into other areas of life as well–including my weekly menu planning.
Here are some general notes on my “system”:
1. I usually plan out dinners for the week on Friday night, and I shop early on either Saturday or Sunday morning. I split the grocery haul between my local farmers’ market and my local health food store or Whole Foods.
2. I don’t plan out lunches and breakfasts for the week, but I do batch cook a few things over the weekend–like whole grains, beans, and dressings–that I know I can put together in different salads and bowls through the week.
3. I rely on leftovers a lot. I work later with clients on Mondays and Fridays, so I usually prepare something that’ll leave me with leftovers on Sunday night and Thursday night. I have night class on Wednesdays, so that’s often a leftover night too (presuming whatever I have is easy to tote to campus). This week is heavy on leftovers, so you’ll see what I mean!
4. I split up my prep over the weekend depending on my schedule and work load, but typically I make batch cooking staples (grains, beans, dressings, hummus) on Saturday, and something substantial on Sunday evening.
5. For work lunches and campus meals, I love this set from ECOlunchbox, which you may have spotted on my Instagram. It’s not great for liquidy foods (it’ll leak a bit), so for soups, chilis, and stews, I like this soup thermos. For salad dressings, I love these little guys. For more tips on planning portable lunches, check out this post!
OK, so what’s on the menu this week?
I’ve been slowly making my way through recipes from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen since I reviewed the book here on the blog. They are reliably delicious, and I had bookmarked Richa’s chana masala–which features a thick tomato sauce, rather than chopped tomatoes, as in other recipes–a while ago. That was my Sunday night recipe, to be served with quinoa and steamed broccoli with tahini dressing. You can find the recipe in Richa’s book, or an earlier version of it on Richa’s blog. I highly recommend it!
My other big weekend cooking project was a batch of my sweet potato and black bean enchiladas. This is the original recipe, which I love; I made the version that features red sauce (rather than tomatillo sauce), which can be found in my book.
It’s one of my favorites, and I often make it when Steven and I have friends over because I can prepare it in advance and pop it in the oven when they arrive. We had a houseguest on Saturday, and he was as enthusiastic about the enchiladas as we were (yay!).
Altogether, here’s what’s on the menu for this week:
Batch cooking staples:
•High protein hemp hummus (for snacks, toasts, sandwich lunches, etc.)
•Lemon tahini dressing (for salads and lunch bowls)
•Vegan Richa’s Chana Masala
•Mustardy lentil and sweet potato salad
•Zucchini date bread (recipe to be shared ASAP!)
And here’s how our dinners will look:
•Vegan sweet potato and black bean enchiladas with a big green salad
•Pita chips & hemp hummus for pre-dinner noshing
•Chana masala, served over cooked quinoa
•Steamed broccoli with lemon tahini dressing
•Chana masala and quinoa leftovers
•Big salad with simple vinaigrette
•Dinner with my mom
Wednesday night (on campus):
•Last of my chana masala leftovers with quinoa or mustardy lentil sweet potato salad with quinoa (depends on how much of each dish I’ve got left and what I’m craving)
•Veggie side of some sort (probably a small packed salad)
•Curried sweet potato noodle dish (to be shared on the blog!)
•Curried sweet potato noodle and jasmine rice leftovers
It’s worth noting that I increased the chana masala recipe by about half (so, 1.5x the original). Steven and I usually finish more than two portions of a recipe in a night, and on a week when I really want leftovers, I’ll opt to increase the recipe by half or double it altogether. I really recommend doing this if you’re cooking for two or more; even if you end up with more than you need, you can freeze 1-2 portions, which will come in handy for a busy night in the future.
I figure out breakfast based on what I’m craving, whether it’s something savory (like a tostada with hummus and veggies), or the usual bowl of oats, banana, and peanut or almond butter. This week, the zucchini date bread will comprise many of my breakfasts…if Steven doesn’t eat it all first. Lunch is a combination of spontaneity and planning: it’s often a salad bowl with different toppings, sometimes a hummus sandwich with soup, sometimes leftovers. The batch cooking is helpful here.
I’ll be curious to hear if you guys think this is helpful information, and if so, what questions/requests for detail you have. I’d love to use these posts as a chance to share with you the recipes I’m exploring from cookbooks and other blogs, as well as time-honored favorites of mine from the blog!
On that note, it’s time for my final client of the evening. I wish you all a terrific evening, and I’ll be back soon with the zucchini date bread, which you won’t want to miss.
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This is really inspirational. At one time when I was working a few jobs and going to school, I used to do all of that planning. Now that I have more free time, I don’t as much and have been winging it a bit too much lately. I would like to get back more in planning & prep mode. It saves time and money! And maybe some of my sanity when I stare in the fridge for a loooong time when 5pm rolls around and I’m not sure what to make.
The chana masala sounds especially delicious!
I have gotten out of the habit of meal planning. You are inspiring me to get organized again! I’m going to make hemp hummus and the lentil salad tomorrow. I don’t have sweet potatoes so i think I’ll try it with butternut squash.
Love this! This is pretty much what I have been doing throughout med school — I’ve got it down to ~2 hours every Sunday. I totally agree about eating leftovers and cooking extra portions for freezing. My stocked freezer has been so helpful during exam blocks! Also, I definitely struggle with remembering to use all of my cookbooks, so am interested in seeing how you use yours.
Love to hear you happy in your new program. xoxo.
This was very helpful for me! As a new blogger and nutritionist, I’m always looking for inspiration! Your blog is so well done and your content is amazing! I love reading your blog and I’m looking forward to trying new things!
I pretty much make a version of your sweet potato and black bean enchiladas anytime I have sweet potatoes in the house. Minus the tortillas. I just eat it right out of the bowl 🙂
Gena, I loved this post! It was really cool to see how you planned different meals for the week. I hope you do more posts like this!
Btw, so psyched for the zucchini date bread!! 🙂
Hooray! I’m so glad that this is helpful/cool/etc. Thanks for chiming in, Katherine!
This was very helpful!
I loved reading about your meal planning. I do the same thing except I spend Sunday mornings in bed with a pile of recipe books and a notebook so that I can plan for the week ahead. I had never thought before to batch cook things like wholegrains and beans, I would have thought they might go bad. I think I’ll try it out to stop me spending so much money on lunches at work!
Glad you’re enjoying the post!
Thank you so much for sharing! My meal planning has been feeling stale (or totally nonexistent) lately and it’s awesome to get insight into others’ methods.
I particularly like you note about increasing recipes. I definitely learned this the hard way! But also have come to love my spontaneous lunches that usually consist of a grain and s green smothered in hummus!
Question re: your batch cooking. How much of everything (the hummus, dressing, etc) do you make? Curious because this I still haven’t figured out for two people! What used to last for me is basically one night for the two of us. =\
Looking forward to more of these posts!
Glad you like the posts!
I make my batches in portions of 4-6. It depends on whether or not Steven and I will both be eating, or if it’s just me (he doesn’t make lunch at home like I do, or pack his everyday). If something is just for me (like a pot of grains), a 4-serving batch is perfect. If it’s for both of us, I’ll make at least 6 portions. For hummus and dressing, I’ll usually do 6-10 portions (totally depends, again, on whether we’ll be having it together at dinner as well as my eating it solo for lunch), and I err on bigger portions because dressings, at least, tend to keep 5 days.
This answer was really affirming for me. Totally not used to prepping food in that amounts but things have gotten so beautifully busy lately and I’ve been wanting to get back to batch cooking but felt nervous because it hadn’t worked for us. Thanks for he permission-giving reminder that it’s ok to make a whole bag of rice for the week. XO
Good! I’m not sure which part was affirming (the permission to make that much food at once without worrying that it’ll go bad or go to waste, or the assurance that it’s OK to need/eat a batch even if you’re not being helped by your partner), but either way, it’s all good. Planning is such an important means of giving the body what it needs!
You are super organised! I have started to do this too, but for lunches only as I cook for a varying number of family (4-8) each night. Will def. use some of your ideas, so thanks for posting. I love the Eco lunchbox; I use to use a stainless steel tiffin but it was too heavy so now I have a BPA fre e lunch cube, but I’d always prefer stainless steel.
I love this post. I found it really interesting to see how much you eat leftovers. It’s a great strategy and suggestion. I feel like I have to cook something different each day of the week.
Leftovers are key! In a perfect world, I’d make something new each night, and that’s what I do when things are slower, schedule-wise. But the leftovers are truly crucial for busy times.
Hi Gena–thanks for letting us in on your meal planning strategy. I love the lunch “equipment” you use. And that chana masala looks really delicious. I will have to try a version of that. And of course, black bean sweet potato enchiladas are one of my all time favorites. Have a delicious week! xo
I love this along with a link to the recipes. I would love to keep following along. Thank you
Wonderful ideas! I was literally just thinking about the fact that I want to start planning my weeks like this. My life is finally starting to get a consistent schedule (which really helps) and this post is exactly what I needed to kick the planning into high gear! Thanks!!
This is really helpful, so thank you. I’ve got to say, your hemp hummus is the BEST…it’s constantly in my fridge and I had it as a wrap for lunch today! I need to try the enchiladas…every time I see the recipe, I don’t have sweet potatoes on hand, and then I forget. This post gives me the reminder I need! Thanks!