5 Tips for Vegetarian Menu Planning

After working for a few years as a personal chef, the most important skill I learned from the job wasn't how to wield my knife like a pro or how to cook super fancy, it was the ability to plan a menu for the week ahead. Do you plan your meals in advance? If so, what does this look like for you?

Every weekend, I think about what's coming next on the calendar and try to get a grip on our food situation. Usually I grocery shop over the weekend as well as make a ritual trip to the farmer's market. At my cheffing job, I wasn't given much freedom to cook creatively, but I did rely on seasonal produce to lead the way, as I do now.

I learned a lot cooking day in and day out; here are some tips I still implement in my home cooking/planning routine.

5 Tips for Vegetarian Menu Planning

Include mostly tried and true favorite dishes on your menu for the week — for us that's enchiladas, egg dishes and tons of green salads — but then branch out and try something new one of the days. I tear out or bookmark easy recipes that feature favorite ingredients and make an effort to create one new dish per week. Everyone gets in a cooking rut, and this makes for a more lively way of eating.

Wash and bag a half week's worth of lettuce right when you get home from the grocery store. This was one of my more loathed duties while cooking for someone else, but now that I do it at home, I love the chore because it means my husband and I will be eating greenery with every dinner. It's very simple but very effective way of getting dinner on the table faster each night.

Make a pot of beans or brown rice once per week. I usually use grains or beans as a canvas for new and exciting fresh herbs, precious oils and vinegars and lots of tasting salts and fresh ground pepper. Tonight I dressed brown rice with a balsamic vinaigrette and tossed in fresh peas, walnuts, apple chunks, dried cherries and shallots. It was delicious and we'll eat this rice for lunch and dinner throughout the week. It also gets even better after sitting in the fridge for a few days.

Chop up fresh fruits you like. Having fresh fruit prepared really makes me want to eat fruit as a snack. With a dollop of yogurt and topped with shredded coconut, I can have a tropical fruit party every afternoon with a cup of tea. It is such a luxurious treat to open the fridge and have glistening, washed berries, cubed mango chunks and watermelon wedges just begging to be eaten.

Go to a grocery store you enjoy. My favorite grocery serves an array of samples, has fresh coffee in little cups and lets you try anything from the bulk bins. They also have a beautiful selection of organic produce. For me, shopping for food here is such a pleasure, I look forward to going. With all the freebies and stunning flower section; it's a sensory experience, hardly a chore. And for buying organic, it's the same price as the so-so chain grocery down the street. It costs the same, so why not enjoy?

Do you have any favorite, frequently-followed tips for getting a better set of meals on the table each week?

Related: Seasonal Menu Planning from Around the US

It's Reader Request Week at The Kitchn! This post was requested by Barlow Girl.

(Image: Leela Cyd Ross)