The Night of the Week Plan was created just with the needs of my husband and me in mind, but we think it might be useful to others, especially other couples where both people work. It’d also be great for roommates who want to collaborate on a meal plan.
The NWP is actually built on a management theory: Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties. In Peters and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, they noticed that successful businesses stick to core values but leave the details up to individuals. Likewise here, we have a core set of goals, but a number of ways to achieve them.
The thing about the NWP is that is endlessly adaptable. This is a blog about how to develop a flexible system that provides just enough structure to keep your life more balanced. It’s not a diet, it’s not a regimen, it’s not set in stone. You could do the NWP with all Trader Joe’s frozen food if you wanted, or with a homemade, multi-course dinner every night. You do YOU.
Set some goals and parameters. Before we got started, we had some goals in mind.
We wanted to:
- Eat at home most nights
- Stick to a grocery and eating out budget
- Eat reasonably healthy, with not too much meat
- Avoid making choices about dinner at the end of the day
Your goals might be the same, they might be different. Maybe you have some go-to eating out places that fit your budget and make your body happy. Maybe you have dietary restrictions or want to incorporate a specific health-related goal (in line with a doctor’s rec’s). Our plan is very dinner-focused, with leftovers and simple stuff like turkey sandwiches filling in the gaps for lunches, but maybe you want to plan breakfast and lunch, too. Have at it! Those parts of our day were pretty chill, so we didn’t include them in our goals. It’s also worth mentioning that though we both work, there are many days when one of us does have time to cook after we get home, or can cook in the morning before a late call time.
Pick your themes. The first (only?) prep step is to assign themes to nights of the week that guide your meal planning. We knew we would not stick to a plan if there were no choice involved – for example, if every Monday were Tuna Casserole, every Tuesday, Spaghetti. This isn’t a camp cafeteria. We needed to make our themes sufficiently broad so that we had a lot of options at different levels of complexity, some dishes that could come together in under an hour, or even a half-hour, some that could be all made from stuff in the freezer and pantry, some that were fancy and fun. We tried to think of dishes that one of us knew how to make without consulting a cookbook (even you, non-cook, I know you’ve got one or two!), as well as ones that could be doubled and frozen – that’s huge. You can see where our current themes are below.
You’ll notice that during the week we went with themes tied to a certain part of the world, though surely you could do types of protein (Fish Night, Tofu Night) or whatever other basis you like. There’s some wacky stuff going on during the weekends – it’s actually a fully flexible trio of Nights (Friend Night, Elaborate Night, and Wild Card Night) that can be rearranged as needed, because who knows what’s going to happen? I suppose you could do that during the week, too, but Monday – Thursday was where our problems were and we needed to lock that shit down.
Make a plan. We plan Monday to Sunday, so that we can do a shopping trip together on Sunday. I have a perfect $1.50 weekly planner from Muji that I use exclusively for our meal planning. On Saturday or Sunday morning, we look at our calendars for the coming week – checking in about the week to come has actually been an unintended but lovely benefit of the NWP! – and we pick meals and assign cooking duties. We also talk about the ingredients we need for all of the meals, and when we’ll be able go grocery shopping if we need something perishable mid-week. Sometimes we’ll have a midweek social engagement that includes dinner; if so, we just skip that night. Remember, the NWP serves you, not the other way around! We also think about the weekend to come and assign those nights, because usually we’ll have a pretty good sense of what’s upcoming.
Without further ado, this is our current Night of the Week Plan:
MONDAY – Asian Night
Yes, that’s ridiculously broad. It’s by design. This category covers everything from Indian to Japanese to Chinese to “inspired by” dishes that involve ingredients like ginger, garlic, rice, soba noodles, and soy. These are often vegetarian dishes for us.
TUESDAY – Mediterranean Night (Formerly Pasta Night)
We’ve only been at this a couple months and we’ve already made a Tuesday change from Pasta, which got too repetitive for me. Mediterranean Night can feature the cuisine of any country that touches the eponymous sea–we eat a lot of Italian and Middle Eastern food, the latter mostly inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s stellar series of cookbooks. Tomatoes, chickpeas, chicken, couscous (cooks in 5 minutes!) all make regular appearances here.
WEDNESDAY – Mexican Night
I can’t say we strive for authenticity, but since we live in LA, we are exposed to a lot of delicious Mexican food. When left to my own devices, it is my preferred cuisine.
THURSDAY – American Classics Night
We’re still working this one out, partially because Thursdays are an incredibly common night for events. Of course defining an “American Classic” is an impossible term, but generally we mean comfort food.
THE WEEKEND – Friend Night, Elaborate Night, Wild Card Night
One night per weekend is for having dinner with friends or family. My parents and brother live nearby, so usually one night per weekend we’re hanging out with them. This could be an at-home night, in which case we choose a meal ahead of time, or going out, if we’re in a good spot on our budget for the month.
We try to make one night per weekend a night to try a new recipe or take on something more complex and mutli-step.
Wild Card Night
On Wild Card Night, anything goes! This tends to be Friday nights for us and it usually takes one of two forms. If we have leftovers from the week, we just heat them up. If not, then we go out.