One of the most difficult parts of my day to day home life centers around the subject of food. This was not always the case- I grew up in a household with two parents who enjoyed cooking and eating, my partner enjoys cooking and eating, and I worked in kitchens for the past 11 years- but there is something about the rigors of everyday life paired with my 6-year sons picky eating habits that really makes planning family dinners stressful and frustrating when they actually happen at all.
I’ve asked friends and read books and many have offered the suggestion of a consistent weekly menu as a solution. The weekly menu is beneficial because it both sets an expectation with your family as to what will be served, and makes the planning and execution of the meal easier for the cook. Jewish households have been doing it this way for years.
FOODISH contributor Sarah Sufrin talks about the set menu and corresponding housekeeping that took place on each day of the week in her childhood home. On Sunday they tidied the house and changed the sheets and ate the leftovers from their Shabbat meal with a fresh salad. Monday was laundry day and, because of the massive amount of work, a simple meal of spaghetti with salty cheese was made. Tuesdays were spent ironing and a lentil or chickpea and spinach stew was served with thick slices of bread for dipping. On Wednesdays they went to the market in Neve Tzedek and dinner consisted of dishes made with the days fresh purchases, such as zucchini cubes in tomato sauce or “fasoulia”- fresh green beans in tomato sauce- they left the fish they purchased for Friday swimming in the bathtub. Of course Thursday was spent cleaning and prepping for Shabbat cooking- soaking beans, making the dough for bourekitas, cutting and searing the chicken- and for the evening meal meatballs with noodles or potatoes, and okra or peas with rice. And because Fridays were a short day, the work started early with fijones (Greek chamin) cooking, finally taking that fish out of the tub, and the preparation of sofrito (slow cooked chicken with potatoes) and stuffed vegetables.
Devorah Weinstein tells us how her Grandmother would feed 10 people from one chicken for Friday night dinner by utilizing every single part of the bird and stretching each dish with onion, bread, or potato. But the weekly dinners were vegetarian in nature (due to economic necessity) and consisted of filling and inexpensive ingredients: different types of noodles, kasha (buckwheat), vernix, kreplach, knishes, pletzlach (flatbreads with poppy seeds and fried onions), bean soup with kneidlach, potato soup, mamaliga, and always with homemade bread.
As a child, I distinctly remember having the same dishes on rotation for dinner, but for completely different reasons. “You girls wouldn’t eat that many things,” my mother says of my sisters and I. “I was pretty lucky to get a week of meals. You’d eat Grandma’s roast chicken with paprika, but otherwise it was tacos, pasta with broccoli, macaroni and cheese, we’d order pizza once a week, and meatloaf.” For the record I hated meatloaf day, but now that I’m a mother myself I appreciate that you can’t win them all.