It's hard to come up with something fresh and from-scratch every weeknight after work when you're tired and short on time. And you don't want to spend your whole Sunday planning for the week, either. These three menus solve these problems. They start with one recipe that you can use several ways in a variety of dinners and lunches.The idea is to take one dish and repurpose it a few times. It's nothing fancy, but it's environmental, economical, efficient, and well, impressive in its own right. (We ran out of e's.) So check it out. Use the grocery list at the end of each weekly menu, which contain the whole week's ingredients, without exact measurements. See the recipes.
You only need a bunch of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese to make this flavorful sauce that is ridiculously flexible. Start with pasta, and then work from there. Make a lot of pesto, so you don't have to skimp later. You can substitute any leafy green for basil too. Get our Easy Basil Pesto recipe.
a. Fettuccine with Pesto, Asparagus, and Artichoke
If you've never bought fresh artichokes and instead gone for the canned or jarred variety, now's the time. This recipe gives step-by-step instructions with photos. Get our Fettuccine with Pesto, Asparagus, and Artichoke recipe.
b. Bacon, Asparagus, Goat Cheese Pizza
Use your pesto instead of tomato sauce on a pizza, which can be another dinner as well as a lunch to take to work or school. You can bake the pizza too, if you can't grill it. Get our Bacon, Asparagus, Goat Cheese Pizza recipe.
c. Pesto Chicken and White Bean Soup
Full of flavor from all sorts of angles, from the sausage to the pesto, this soup will satiate your palate as well as your appetite with fiber from the beans and zucchini too. Get our Pesto Chicken and White Bean Soup recipe.
d. Pesto Club Quesadilla
This Fridge Scrap Snack Heaven Italian-Inspired Quesadilla is like a panini in a way, but with tortillas. You can also do a sandwich instead, with whatever bread and fillings you have, using pesto as the condiment instead of mustard or mayonnaise. Get the recipe.
- Produce: Fresh basil, garlic, zucchini, onion, lemon
- Pantry/Center Aisles: Pine nuts, olive oil, fettuccine, chicken stock/broth (unless you do the roast chicken week below first and have leftover stock), cannellini beans, red pepper flakes, olive oil, tortillas or bread, honey
- Dairy: Parmesan cheese, goat cheese, shredded mozzarella
- Meat: Bacon, sweet or hot Italian sausage, chicken breasts, sandwich meat
- Freezer/Refrigerator Sections: Pre-made pizza dough
2. ROAST CHICKEN
This one's a classic for repurposing leftovers. Use whatever herbs you want, or just stick with salt, pepper, and lemon. Serve this chicken with a vegetable-filled pasta salad or a leafy green salad and potatoes or rice. Get our Basic Whole Roasted Chicken recipe.
a. Quick Chicken Tacos
This is such a quick way to make use of your leftover rotisserie or roasted chicken. Stay on theme and make it on #TacoTuesday. If you buy some good fresh salsa, then it's really quick. Otherwise, make your own or settle for the jarred kind. Get our Quick Chicken Tacos recipe.
b. Chicken Salad Sandwich
You can skip the bread and place a scoop on top of some lettuce and drizzle vinaigrette over it if you'd rather, otherwise, follow the flexible recipe how you see fit. For instance, use dried cranberries instead of dried cherries. Get our Chicken Salad Sandwich recipe.
You can't roast a chicken without making stock from the leftover bones, fat, cartilage, and meat bits. Then make soup of course. But it can be a little more interesting than your basic chicken soup. Get our Easy Chicken Ramen recipe.
d. Easy Chicken Stir-Fry
This recipe can be tweaked according to taste and ingredient availability too. If you can't find the Chinese rice wine Shaoxing or want to stock dry sherry just for this recipe, then don't sweat it. It'll be fine. Get our Easy Chicken Stir-Fry recipe.
- Produce: Lemons, lime, celery, carrots, button/cremini mushrooms, red bell pepper, yellow onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, scallions, Bibb/Boston lettuce, fresh thyme, cilantro, jalapeño,
- Pantry/Center Aisles: Salt, pepper, olive oil, canola/vegetable oil, dried herbs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, sesame/chili oil, ramen noodles, dried cherries or cranberries, almonds, kaiser rolls/focaccia/ciabatta bread, bay leaf, cumin, corn tortillas, white rice, dry sherry/Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, cornstarch
- Dairy: (Nothing!)
- Meat: 4-5 pound whole chicken
- Freezer/Refrigerator Sections: Eggs, salsa, snow peas
We chose a chili recipe that is most classic to us, but make it any way you please. It should be hearty and smoky-spicy in whatever incarnation your chili takes. Serve with tortilla chips or Saltine crackers. Get our Chipotle, Beef, and Bean Chili recipe.
a. Chili Dogs with a side of Tangy Cabbage Slaw
Buy some great hot dogs and buns and then pour that chili on top and sprinkle with shredded cheddar and diced onions. Balance out this heavy meatiness with a light vegetable. Get our Tangy Cabbage Slaw recipe.
b. Macaroni or Rice
Just pour that chili over cooked macaroni or rice and call it a day. You're exhausted. It's delicious, and you know it.
With cornbread, it's like this chili is brand new again. Hurray for cornbread! Get our Moist Cornbread recipe.
- Produce: Garlic, yellow onions, red onion, limes, green/red cabbage, cilantro
- Pantry/Center Aisles: Can of chipotles in adobo sauce, pinto beans, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, chili powder, ground cumin, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, tortilla chips/crackers, finely ground yellow cornmeal, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, vegetable oil, hot dog buns, rice/macaroni
- Dairy: Whole milk, butter, cheddar
- Meat: 2 pounds ground chuck, hot dogs
- Freezer/Refrigerator Sections: Eggs
Craving something a little different? Check out more of our weeknight dinner ideas.
— Head Photo: Eat This, Not That!; the rest of the photos by Chowhound.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She's trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.