How to solve dinner every night by tuning in to the rhythm of your kitchen.
“What to cook for dinner?” has to be among the most common searches on the web. It is often more of a desperate plea for inspiration, or even a clue, to solve the food challenge that comes near the close of each day. The answer of course is, that you can have anything you want, but if what you want is not in your fridge, there is a good chance that dinner tonight will arrive on the back of a bike.
The clue to solving dinner is to look at what you had last week and even the week before that. In a quiet moment, just look at what you buy and eat week to week. Why should your next week be any different? With food it is so true, if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always have what we always have.
The problem is we repeat the same mistakes because, from all the cooking shows on TV, we are given the hope that we will find what we need in some food hack or amazingly delicious recipe.
The solution is in the rhythm of your kitchen. Much of your kitchen rhythm is unique to you. You create it in the way you shop for groceries, and what you do with those groceries when you get home. Next is how you use your instruments. Not so much the pots and pans, but the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Then there is time and pressure – your family and work life. Kids, drama and piano lessons, sport. Your work and the things that demand your time.
The secret to solving dinner is to get all this into a rhythm that matches your own tune. Fortunately, there is a “typical lifestyle” template we can use.
You probably like cooking, and you can cook a number of dishes quite well. You have more time on weekends. Monday nights you are tired, Tuesday under pressure, Wednesday and Thursday you’ve got it together, but you are busy. Friday night, casual food, relax.
So, define what that rhythm looks like for you, and match your food to it. Here’s how it might work. Do your main shop Saturday, with a refresh shop on Wednesday for fresh vegetables.
You will have bought some protein; chicken, pork, beef. Farinaceous staples to top up the pantry, pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes. Greens and veg; broccoli or green beans, carrots, tomatoes, baby spinach and Asian greens. Onions, garlic, and ginger.
Think Food First, Flavour, Method
What we can plan for is that things change. CooksClub propose a simple framework. Food first, then flavour and cooking method. On Tuesday night we don’t feel like the recipe we thought looked nice last Saturday. We thought everyone would be home, but it’s now later than we’d hoped as we walk into the kitchen. This is the rhythm of your kitchen.
So go back to Saturday. We can plan for the fact that we can’t stick to a plan. We need to be able to freestyle weeknight dinners to put something on the table within 15 to 30 minutes while relaxing and catching up on the day. You need flexibility. Start with an idea of flavour, say Italian, Tex-Mex, Asian or Mediterranean. Then we think about the method, pan fry, stir fry, oven bake or fricassee.
You have three nights to prepare for, then on Thursday night you will heat something from the freezer that you cooked on a relaxing Sunday afternoon. So, Saturday after you shop, don’t just throw everything in the fridge and cupboard. One hour’s mise en place (preparation), will set you up for the week and save you an average of $50 from either wasted food or getting last-minute takeaway.
For my prep, I use kitchen scales for portion sizing. A vacuum sealer to keep everything fresh. I make a stock from the vegetable offcuts and chicken frame (if I have used a whole chicken) and I make a sauce &/or a marinade that will be ready in jars in the fridge for midweek. It’s a discipline, but it is very satisfying. It reminds me of the team doing prep in the restaurants. I put some music on and work with a little pace, like I’m doing a workout. For my week, the rhythm is fine food Saturday. I have time to finesse a little. I might use a recipe and the more expensive cuts while they are fresh, say seafood or perhaps steak. Sunday is slow double cook; bake or braise, a curry, chilli con carne or a bolognese. Weeknights we already have covered, then Friday night I might dine out, get takeaway, or do a pizza, hot dogs, or burger with a beer at home.
Try the Food Lifestyle Survey. It’s a FREE tool that will help you map the rhythm of your kitchen.
- What your food lifestyle really looks like
- How much the food you like should really cost you
- How you can both save money and eat better quality food on the same budget
- How knowing the rhythm of your week makes your food more convenient
- Why recipes are the last place you should start
- Where to start to create your food lifestyle