I don’t love to admit it, but before I joined the Food52 team, I was not a world-champion meal planner. I spent five years in an office where “lunch hour” meant: “pop out for quick takeaway.” And “weeknight dinner” meant: “the fantasy of an alternate universe where people leave work before 8:30 p.m.
Accordingly, I struggled to get my act together when I first crossed the threshold of Food52 HQ. But, it turned out, all I had to do was look around. My new colleagues were like the Olympic Varsity All-Star Meal Planning team. (Is it too clear from that description that I’ve never watched sports?) They even wrote a book on it.
My first week on the job, come noon, I’d encounter a sudden onslaught of salads composed so beautifully, I’d wonder if there was a farmers’ market in the building I hadn’t yet noticed. People would wander out of the team kitchen with hunks of perfectly charred meat that looked like Francis Mallmann had spent days roasting and plating them. There were curried chickpea sandwiches. Bowls of pasta. Slices of warm cake.
And the way they talked about weeknight dinners: good god. These people were whipping up two-course meals like nobody’s business. (Sheet-pan chicken thighs! Chili! Once, I even heard someone mention a scallion crostata!)
Equal parts impressed and intimidated, I started to to pay close attention. As we’ve headed into the busy holiday season over here at HQ, they’ve only gotten better. Here are my colleagues’ best tips for quick and easy meal planning, for desk lunches and weeknight dinners alike:
1. Spreads & Dips Are Your Best Friends
Keeping any number of spreads and dips—homemade over the weekend, or otherwise—is a game-changer when it comes to composing dinner in a flash—or adding a dollop of excitement to a pre-packed lunch.
Say you throw together some pesto pasta on a Saturday. Double-down on pesto-batch-size, throw the leftovers in the fridge. And when Monday rolls around, smear it on a plate and top with a 5-minute broiled boneless chicken breast, and a wedge of lemon. Game over. Or dollop it on top of other leftovers, maybe buzz it into a quick salad dressing to make things interesting.
“Since I am an unabashed homemade mayonnaise and aioli lover, I like to make a big-ish batch and keep it in the fridge to use on everything,” says Brinda Ayer, our Books & Special Projects Editor. “To spread on toast, thin out to use as a salad dressing, dip sweet-potato wedges into, eat by the spoonful (yep).”
2. Tonight’s Dinner Should Absolutely Be Tomorrow’s Lunch
If you’re like Senior Editor Eric Kim, then you don’t underestimate the value of cooking for six to eight on the weekend—in order to eat for one throughout the workweek.
“Contrary to popular belief, I’m a pretty lazy cook if I’m being 1,000% honest,” he tells me. “Even when I’m making a big batch of chicken or beef stroganoff or a simple steak dinner for one, I’ll find any excuse to cut corners so that I’m left with gargantuan amounts of leftovers to repurpose into extra meals later, especially lunch.”
“Oh, but this?” he chuckles. “Yeah…this is just Papa John’s from last night. It’s been a long week.”