The same kind reader who asked about minimalist men’s fashion, Eric, wrote in and asked if I could also talk about cooking for a week.
Since I wasn’t sure if I should just cover recipes or methods, I thought I’d lightly touch on both and keep it flexible.
Why cook for a week at a time:
- Saves time (any good meal takes at least 1/2 hour & if you are ravenous, it feels like an eternity)
- Saves energy (you cook once, rather than each night)
- Great for lazy people who hate to cook
- Great for people who love to cook, but are tired on occasion
- Great for people who are in need of a meal in a pinch
(Doesn’t this asparagus and shiitake mushroom pasta look yummy?)
The Basic Strategy = 2 meals: Lunch and Dinner
This might not sound very appealing to people who want to eat something different each night, but hey, this is the lazy, simple way of ensuring you get properly fed, twice a day at the very least.
If you go to work, you will want to take a lunch with you.
When you get home, you might want a hot meal instead of that sandwich and salad you had at lunch, or just for a change of pace.
This also gives you enough variety to have the option to do a little meal mixing, if you plan your recipes correctly.
Hey, what about breakfast?
I tend to cook for an army of one, so I ALWAYS end up with a lot of leftovers that I end up eating for Lunch/Dinner/Breakfast.
And if there are absolutely NO leftovers, I scrounge for whatever’s available and eat it, or whip up something quick.
- Cashew butter on toast — Actually, not any more. I found out that too much butter/oil makes me break out
- Hummus and crackers
- Leftover weekend pancakes with chopped fruit on top
My real favourite is #4 with pancakes. I make them in bulk on Sunday, and then I heat up a pancake per day, spread some sliced mangoes or bananas, and it’s a VERY hearty breakfast.
I can barely make through 2 pancakes.
- Choose meals/recipes that will hold up well for the week
- Don’t get overly fancy with too many mixes & sauces, it becomes a pain to pack & carry
- Try and co-ordinate the 2 meals, so if need be, you can combine the leftovers into one
- Use fruit, drinks & other snacks to feel like your meals are varied during the week
- Always separate your items instead of combining it all together (turns mushy)
Elements that generally hold up well for the week:
- Soups: they always taste better the next day & if you add pasta or rice = hearty!
- Any kind of pasta: Bolognese is good, or baked and/or stuffed pastas are good
- Choose tomato-based sauces over cream-based
- Rice: If done right, cooked not too mushy or too al dente
- Braised meats (roasted chicken, meatloaf, meatballs)
- No seafood that might go bad very quickly — I’d bring it for the first meal, but not for the rest
- Sliced mushrooms (won’t matter if they ARE a bit mushy), raw carrots, zucchini and harder vegetables that won’t wilt in 2 days
- Savoury bread puddings
- Salads should be packed separately & re-assembled when it’s ready to eat
The Main Recipe Mix & Match Method:
Here are my favourites for what holds up well for the week. I like to call it a uniform meal.
I tend to always pick one from each group, and then change it up with sauces, flavours, herbs & spices.
You can eat THE SAME pasta & veggie dish for 5 months and not notice, because you’re adding different textures and tastes each week just by seasoning and spicing.
And if you don’t like eating ONE flavour all week, then make a standard pasta & veggie dish, and add different spices on different days.
Ta dah! New meals each day.
It really is that simple.
So here’s the plan:
Choose a protein/main: Meats, Cashew butter, Beans, Quinoa, anything with fiber & protein
Choose a carbohydrate/filler: Pasta, Noodles Rice, Bread, Couscous, Quinoa
Choose a vegetable: Zucchini, Broccoli, Stewed Tomatoes, Roasted Onions, Eggplant, Mushrooms, Peppers
Figure out a sauce/flavour: Tomato-based, Cream-based (at the start of the week), Miso-based, Soy Sauce (lots of great savoury flavours in those soya beans!)
Add herbs/spices: Coriander, Curry Powder, Cumin, Basil, Chinese 5 spice, BBQ spices…
And mix and match.
For vegetarians, quinoa and beans are very filling, but you already knew that.
For meat-eaters, chicken thighs don’t dry out the way breast tends to, real bacon goes very well in many rice/pasta dishes, pork in general is a good choice if you choose a fattier cut, and beef is great because I like it rare, and when I microwave it, it turns medium, but not overdone.
I also sometimes just enjoy eating hummus on toast or a cracker. It’s very filling & the chickpeas are tasty.
I love, love, love rice. But it doesn’t hold up quite as well as pasta for a week-long dish.
Here’s a tip when you microwave old rice: sprinkle a little water on it before you put it in the microwave. The water will steam the rice a bit, and make it softer and less hard.
You can always buy Quinoa and use it as double-duty protein & carbohydrate, but it’s quite expensive here, and I’d prefer rice for the texture and just a childhood preference.
What holds up well are vegetables that don’t get mushy over time, unless that is the texture you are looking for.
Look for veggies with a big punch of flavour.
I like roasting red onions (a very sweet, caramelized flavour), and I don’t mind if they get mushy (kind of like an onion jam, then).
I also enjoy canned/stewed tomatoes which I mash into a sauce of sorts for my pasta dishes.
You know what else is also tasty & filling? Roasted potatoes with rosemary & thyme, salted lightly… and sweet potatoes with sea salt and pepper, or other spices like Chinese 5-spice.
Another great addition is eating seasoned nori (seaweed used in sushi) that is pre-seasoned with salt & sesame oil. It’s very tasty.
Zucchini (not mushy) is also good, as are mushrooms, asparagus, kale, and swiss chard.
I really enjoy the taste of soya sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and miso.
I mean, for me, any of the following in a mix, or alone, it’s the PERFECT foil for any kind of vegetable, protein or grains.
I could put that on top of anything and it’d taste good.
BF prefers to make cream-based or tomato-based sauces for his pasta. I like it too, once in a while.. but the tomato paste tends to taste of too much zing and tang for me to eat it every week without feeling bored.
Maybe if I mixed it with miso paste. That might add another level of depth and flavour.
You can also buy bottled sauces such as curry sauces and so on.
I am in LOVE with coriander lately. I like the fresh herb-y flavour of it, and I mix it with almost any kind of meal.
I could eat this stuff raw, just snacking on it.
Curry powder, BBQ spices, different salts, sesame or truffle oil (very flavourful), cumin and Chinese 5 spice.
These will all help dress up the “uniform” lunch and dinner, which is basically what I’m proposing here.
COOK IN BULK
No sense in making one meal of each.
If you’d normally eat half a tomato with your filling, couscous/quinoa sweet potato salad, then quadruple the normal amounts and do all the prep & cooking at once.
That’s the whole point. Just cook more of what can hold up during the week, make the uniform meal & change it with seasonings and spices.
DON’T FORGET SNACKS!
You can bring a different fruit each week, make fruit salad that will hold up well & transport nicely 5 times a week.
I love apples, mangoes, grapes, apples, bananas, and nothing like pomegranates at work (it stains your hands red).
You can also bring snacks, such as strips of seasoned miso.
You can bring nuts, cashews, and other munchie things, so you can switch up your lunches to make them seem different each time.
Some of my favourite lunch and dinner meals are the easiest:
- Hummus with veggies & toast/crackers
- Any kind of pasta
- Rice and/or meat and veggies
- Roasted potatoes & sweet potatoes with spices
- Chicken soup
- Raw salmon, cooked in the microwave for 1 minute over rice
- (Very-Bad-for-you) ramen with cracked eggs & some extra seaweed & veggies
- Miso paste mixed with mushrooms, green onions – then just add hot water, stir & enjoy
You will find what’s tastiest and/or easiest to prepare.
Just remember that you do need something that is filling (just some salad leaves won’t do it), with carbohydrates, fiber, a bit of fat and lots of flavour, or else you won’t want to eat it.
If you see someone with a tasty lunch, make notes about what you find appealing and make it.
If you see something interesting on TV, then make a note of it. Try it out.
Search out recipes on how to change up what you feel like making, and subscribe to food blogs to get ideas.