One of the areas of most tension between me and my wife used to be what to cook on any given evening.
I’m happy eating a variation of pasta every day of my life. My wife likes a more balanced meal.
I’m a last-minute decision maker. My wife is a planner.
I enjoy doing hours of research before cooking something. My wife just wants to eat.
I’m also always interested in cooking with new ingredients, trying new techniques, and discovering new cuisines.
Our solution was not to plan individual meals ahead of time. It was to decide on a weekly theme and cook based on it every night of the week. I think its pretty unique so I’m going to share a few ideas below. If you’re interested in joining a community of people who all cook the same theme in a given week, please fill out this form.
Here are the kinds of themes we usually follow:
A country-related theme
This is pretty self-explanatory, but choose a country and stick to the kinds of dishes they tend to eat.
I usually start my research on a country theme by searching for the top 10 dishes eaten in that country or the top ingredients used in that country.
Let’s take Mexico for example:
A search for the main ingredients used in mexican cooking leads us to this list of basics:
- and some proteins like chicken, beef, and fish
Those ingredients should be available pretty much anywhere.
A few others may take a bit more work to source like tomatillos, poblano peppers, and cotija.
But either way, those basic ingredients are more than enough to make lots of Mexican classics like guacamole, pico de gallo, tacos, etc.
An ingredient theme
For example, eggs. They can be cooked a few dozen ways, or 59 if you’re actually counting:
One week of meals that uses eggs that would not be boring could be:
- eggs benedict
- egg fried rice
- egg drop soup
An Abstract Theme
I’m not sure what to call this but its like:
- breakfast for dinner
- meals that are safe to eat in space
A Technique Theme
I tend to cook mostly on the stove, so to mix things up, sometimes I’ll choose to only use the oven during a week. Alternatively, you could choose to only use:
How and Why it helps:
First of all, this works because creativity thrives under constraints which is well documented.
On top of that, it leads to…
I’ve found that I’ve had to make a lot less decision since starting to cook like this. Another way to look at it is that instead of making a decision every day, I’m grouping those decisions into a single weekly one. It also makes grocery shopping much easier, especially if I can go to a specialty shop (say, an Asian market) and get proper ingredients.
Less Food Waste & Saves Money
Have you ever gotten inspired to make a dish that required an ingredient you don’t usually have and you only use it once and never again until you throw it out years later? I think we all have! Using the same Mexican example above, if you buy cilantro for the week, it can be used in almost every Mexican dish.
Less Boring Weeks
Who wants to repeat the same weekly schedule over and over? It’s boring for the cook and the eaters. Themes mix it up.
Cooking this way does require time to research, plan, and prepare, but if you enjoy cooking like I do, I think you’ll really like this method.
If you’re interested in joining a community of people who all cook the same theme in a given week, please fill out this form.
Just for myself, here’s a running list of all the themes I’ve done (that I can remember):
- Mexican x2
- Japanese x2
- Breakfast as dinner
- Salad week
- Fish week
- Chicken week
- One pan in oven
Themes I still want to try:
- Plant-based food
- Peanut/peanut butter