I’m a pretty keen amateur cook; perhaps unusually so (I have a sparsely updated food blog, Objection: Salad!, if you want to see the gory details). However one aspect of my cookery that is probably utterly typical is running low on inspiration for the daily grind of weekday dinners. I’ve been tried a few things to solve this to this, including recipe apps with “why not make this?” suggestions and food blogs with stunning photography of intricate creations.
But to be honest, after a long day at work, I don’t want to think too hard about what I’m making. I usually just want to crank out one of my standby dishes. You probably know what I mean — the two dozen or so quick meals you’ve made lots of times before and you know you can always turn to to find something you fancy eating on any given day.
The problem is, I’m forgetful. I do my grocery shopping during my lunch breaks and I often find myself heading out to the supermarket with no idea what I should be picking up. I forget entirely what I’ve eaten lately or what I haven’t had for ages. I’ve even tried proper week-ahead full-on meal planning, but that is, frankly, not a lot of fun. I don’t particularly enjoy being that organised. It feels too much like work. I needed something less formal.
So that’s my problem, which perhaps you share. And here’s my solution, for your consideration: I created a list in my favourite ToDo app, Realmac Software’s Clear (you can use any ToDo app for this, I just happen to like Clear). That list stores my rotation of standby meals: the ones I know I can cook in a reasonable amount of time, and the ones I know my wife and I will always enjoy eating. That’s a screenshot of my current list up at the top of the article.
The trick is, I never mark any of those meals as “complete”. I’m not using the app to track what I’ve done. Instead, after cooking any particular meal, I merely drag it down the priority order to the very bottom (you can do this with a simple tap-and-drag in Clear, which is one of the reasons I really like the app). Then, when I find myself pondering “what am I making for dinner tonight?”, I look at the top of the list for my inspiration. That way, I get a natural reminder of the things I haven’t cooked in a while. When I cook something new that fits in, I add it to the bottom of the list, so I’m naturally expanding my repertoire as time goes on.
Occasionally, I go a little further, and where I have some specific ingredients to use up before they go off I add extra annotations to the top of the list. That’s as close as I get to formal meal planning. I’ve also added specific one-off reminders of recipes I see that I want to cook soon but know I’ll forget about, and sometimes I delete those rather than move them to the bottom if they didn’t turn out great or if they were too much work to be reasonably tackled in a weeknight after work. I’m all about the practical compromises.
Since adopting this technique, I’ve rarely run dry for inspiration, and I’ve found that there were a surprising number of recipes I cooked once and promptly forgot about that were actually things I wanted to be cooking every few weeks. It’s only a small thing — I’m not claiming this is going to change anyone’s life — but I thought I’d share it with you in in the hope that you might find it useful too.