Polly Answers Your Questions (#10)

Polly Answers Your Questions (#10)

How do you stay inspired with what you cook? What does your meal planning look like?

These were two separate questions that I’ll answer as one.

The first key in the kitchen is no pressure; anything you do is value added. We could all subsist on green protein smoothies, grilled cheese, eggs, or cottage cheese with pears (my defaults), or chicken strips, steamed broccoli, dates, and pecans (my husband’s). Cooking just makes things more interesting and your nutrition improved.

It feels important to mention that cooking is optional these days when you can just assemble something, or warm something up, or eat out. Remember that we do it because we want to, because it is better– more delicious, more satisfying, more creative, more fun, more healthy, more interesting, more flavorful, more varied. Knowing your wonderful motives, is important for them to have their reward.

So we have established that cooking is not a chore, but a delightful augmentation to your life, which you want to fit into your schedule in a way that brings maximum enjoyment, and the most satisfying results. As omnivores with so many possible choices around us, we have to figure out what to eat and when to eat it. So really there is not a lack of inspiration to be overcome, but a sifting through a huge maze of options, which some find exciting, while others find it bewildering.

Like in other things we’ve discussed, I find a framework helps. On a regular week – unless we have guests, or a holiday is underfoot– I just plan four meals. With the way my workweek usually plays out, I have more time and bandwidth for cooking weekdays at lunch time. This is when we usually have our best meals. Late in the day I get too busy or less ambitious, and I’ve come to know this about myself. Besides, we’ve found we like a lighter meal at dinnertime. Maybe for you, you need to put something in the crock pot before you go to work that will be ready when you get home at dinnertime, others batch cook for the whole week on the weekends. The point is we all have our schedules and times when we can conceivably approach cooking with the best attitude. Figure out when yours is!

For me, our four days of weekday lunches doesn’t feel onerous. I look forward to it, because I’ll make enough yummy leftovers to keep us afloat the rest of the week. I look forward to all that good eating, so the associated effort feels minimal. I’m not talking about sad, obligatory leftovers here, but ones fit for company, ones that we look forward to having again. Four types leftovers give us enough variety to happily stagger through for the rest of the week.

So what do I make and plan?

As mentioned I love our Community Shellfish place, so I buy usually two meals of seafood protein from them a week (wild Patagonian salmon, or scallops, swordfish, tuna, shrimp, or halibut all from Maine). So on the two days I serve that, I usually make a side dish vegetable which can be repurposed for later meals. (For example, I love a poached egg on those leftover roasted Brussel Sprouts for a light dinner.) Sometimes I try a new recipe to cook the fish, but after doing this for so long, we have a bunch of tried and true ways of making them (grilling, baking, broiling, favorite sauces, etc) so that way is usually what I’ll do.

Each week I make a couple favorites from the blog and try two new recipes as well. Often one of them is a soup, one of them is a veggie main dish, and the two side dishes mentioned for the seafood above. I make simple salads and try different homemade dressings, which make great leftovers too. Fruit is my friend and always rounds out a plate nicely. We get affordable fresh organic fruit at Costco, and seasonally at the farmer’s market, plus more from our own garden.

We usually have one of these fish meals on Monday at lunch, because that’s my husband’s podcast day, and not only is the fish freshest then, but I’ll make the fewest dirty dishes for him to have to clean up on that day. By Tuesday, I feel like I haven’t cooked for a while and I’m chomping at the bit to do something more complicated or experimental.

Each week I get food blogs as well as NYTimes cooking, and follow a bunch of foodie accounts on my @pescatarianvegetarian instagram account, so I have an influx of new ideas coming in that way too. Often I’ve seen something I want to try. (Recently, this, and this and this came that way).

I also have a bunch of cookbooks, as well as sometimes check them out from the new books shelf at my library. This year, my resolution is to “use what I have” and dipping into my cookbook collection more to make something I’ve tabbed, is one of my goals. (So far this year, this and this has come that way.)

Often Tuesday is the day I’ll try out something new, or if I’ve planned something more labor intensive from the blog, like Eggplant Parmesan, or one of my lasagna’s (see here or here), I’ll do it then. Once that is done, my cooking week is already on a downward coast, with easier things to finish up with.

Some weekday lunch times one or both of us have a conflicting appointment, so that’s the weekday I don’t cook. Other weeks, I want to seize good weather to hike further, which takes time, so I’ll let that be the weekday I don’t cook, and we just warm things up. I finish up making my two other planned midday meals as we coast into the weekend. Sometimes we go out to dinner on a Friday night as a date, and often we have brunch out after church on Sunday with friends.

Usually before one week is done, I’m starting to know what I want to try or remake for the next week. Sometimes, I have something in the fridge that needs to be used up, which will send me to a cookbook for a new idea of how use it. Sometimes it is a seasonal demand: the fresh sweet corn is now out and good, so it is our time to make our favorite Sweet Corn Chowder. Sometimes it is just seasonal flavor, and it’s time to make our Autumn Vegetable Soup, for example. Sometimes, something has come up in conversation that we are hankering for, like our Savory Tuna Burgers, or our Multigrain Blueberry Pancakes, our Salmon Cakes, or our Seafood Pie (shown above that I made recently while my husband was out shoveling a foot of snow).

Often I put my four weekly recipe plans on an index card clipped to the fridge, with the ingredients needing to be procured on the back. I usually only have a loose idea of which day I’ll do which one, and sometimes what happens is a result of which I already have the ingredients for. We go twice a month to Costco, and I rotate once a week between Trader Joes, Whole Foods, our local organic store, and the grocery on the other side of our block. We are blessed with usually being pretty well stocked with ingredients, so our grocery lists are usually rather short, especially when my husband’s garden is in full swing.

I should also mention here that my husband makes some quick, air-fried chicken strips or frozen turkey burgers for himself, or gets sliced turkey for sandwiches. We agreed before we were married I would not handle meat for him, so he gets what he wants that way at dinner time. He’s also a champion leftover eater and repurposer, and a small dinner of leftovers with one of my defaults is all I want. We whip up dinner together companionably in just a few minutes, sometimes eating the same thing, sometimes not, while more focused on getting our daily cribbage game in, than on what we are eating. He also is our baker, sometimes making bread or cookies, about twice a month, on weekends.

I think it helps to stay ahead of the game and have a plan, even if it is only for four meals a week. I find that the people who hate cooking arrive at 6pm and start thinking then about what they should make. That is planning to fail in my book, unless you see it as a game and a challenge like on Chopped, cobbling something together from what you have around. For me, planning ahead what will be creative, fresh, nourishing, satisfying, different, and fun is more successful. Doing little enough of it makes me always happy to get back to it, when the time for me to make something comes around again.

Sorry if that was too long winded! Was that helpful? Please share any of your own approaches in the comments.

Let me know what questions you’d like me to answer next month!

How do you stay inspired to cook. what is your meal planning processMultigrain Blueberry Pancakes


Tuna steak, roasted Brussels sprouts, and raspberries


Salmon Cakes with air-fried asparagus and blue berries


Vegetable Lasagna with salad


Grilled swordfish with Dukkah Carrots


Tuna steak with caramelized butternut squash and pear


Leftover Eggplant Parmesan with blueberries


My husband’s bread
I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.


  1. Susan Krevitt 2 months ago

    Verrrrry helpful!

    Thanks, Wonderful Polly!


  2. Meg+Hanson 2 months ago

    Yes, that was informative and helpful! My parents used to play cribbage every day after lunch. I am interested in your take on air fryers. Some people rave about theirs, but to me it just seems like a big toaster oven. My son got me an instant pot for Christmas, but I have not used it yet since it was too big to use in AZ in our RV. I wanted something to cook rice, and that seems better for more uses than a rice cooker.

    • Author
      Polly Castor 2 months ago

      Next month maybe I’ll address air fryers. (We love ours and it also is our toaster.) I don’t have an insta-pot, and I think I’d rather have a rice cooker.

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