Our Eating Lives

Making Our Menu

Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

I was fortunate enough to marry someone who loves food as much as I do. We like to read through recipes, watch cooking shows, and peruse grocery stores and farmers’ markets for interesting items – things we want to try, things we’ve heard of but never seen, things we’re sure we never want to cook with. 

And so every Sunday, we spend a lazy morning in bed, sipping coffee, munching on breakfast, and planning our menu for the week. We flip through magazines and cookbooks for inspiration. We recall favorite meals we want to eat again, meals we’ve eaten in restaurants that we’d like to recreate. We check the weather for the upcoming week, letting that help determine our preferences.

Once we know what we want to eat, we schedule it, making ourselves a guide for the week. I know that my wife will need leftovers to take for lunches, so we make our biggest meals at the beginning of the week. I know that by week’s end, we’ll be tired and less motivated to cook, so we make room for a fruit and cheese night. And then we write out our menu, and we stick it on the refrigerator, and we let it be our guide for the week – because no matter what crazy unforeseen shenanigans happen during the day, we’ll know what we’re eating each night. It is the constant in a week full of variables.

I realize that this could make us sound like rigid control freaks. It’s not so (not really). We leave room for flexibility. If one of us gets good news that needs celebrating, we scrap our menu plans and go out to dinner. If a day has been particularly defeating, and nothing but tacos or In-n-Out Burger will do, then by gum, we get tacos or burgers. Because as helpful as structure can be, flexibility is necessary to accomodate the emotional component of food.

The weekly menu planning has a number of benefits. It helps us avoid mindless food decisions (What do you want for dinner? I don’t know. What do you want for dinner? I don’t know. = pizza) It helps us stay healthy, planning meals with vegetables and fruit and whole grains. It allows for economical spending as we can plan meals that stem into other meals, thereby saving money.

But those benefits aside, the biggest reason I love menu planning is in the process. I love those Sunday mornings when we plan the food we want to eat for the week. I love lazing about in pajamas, drinking coffee, and planning meals that we both will enjoy. I love that our meals change with the seasons, so that our dinners become little weekly homages, a way to honor the passing of time and the ushering in of new ingredients, however briefly they may appear on our table.

I love that our weekly menu is something we do together – a decision we both weigh in on. I’m a Navy wife; I know that before too long, there will be a stretch of many, many months when my wife is on a boat, and that weekly menu planning will fall by the wayside, somehow less important when I’m only cooking for myself. While she’s here on dry land, I relish time spent together coming up with answers to that all important question – “What’s for dinner?” I delight in the plan, the process, the preparatory step that brings us together each evening in the kitchen, ready to work together in the pursuit of putting dinner on the table.



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About Dana Staves

Dana Staves writes about food, books, and the writing life. To keep up with her antics and see gratuitous Instagrams of her cat and her food, follow her on Twitter @DanaStaves.

  • Lorren Lemmons

    My husband and I do the same thing — I can’t imagine not planning a menu! I think it would make so many people’s lives easier if they took the hour to do it.

  • Dana Staves

    I’m the say way, Lorren, I sort of crave that structure now that we have it – and such a fun time to brainstorm and get creative together!

  • http://www.bookpairing.com/ Nikki Steele

    This is so lovely. I definitely love that time to cook and plan for food together. We get our weekly co-op basket on Saturdays and spend the morning chopping up fruit and planning out weekly menus.

    • Dana Staves

      Oh, I loved getting those baskets. Like a sleuthing mission to figure out what we wanted to make from those ingredients. So fun!

  • Marge Hennessy

    Dana, I absolutely love this. Inspiring!

    • Dana Staves

      Thanks so much, Marge!!