Simplifying Kitchen Time
By Emily Horton

During these times of more conscientious consumerism, there are some things that we can do to be a smarter shopper.

In my experience, planning ahead is the key ingredient to staying within the monthly grocery budget. One thing that I’ve found is that it helps to sit down and think about the weekly menu. Try to build Tuesday’s meal off of Monday’s meal, Wednesday’s meal off of Tuesday’s meal, and so on. It takes time to develop this habit, but it pays off once it becomes part of your routine. By practicing this strategy I began to really enjoy cooking. As you think through the weekly menu, make a list of the ingredients you need so you are less likely to fall into the impulse buying trap.

Another aspect of cooking within a budget is staying in season – using vegetables or fruits that are currently being harvested. A resource I found to track the seasonal vegetables is at Using seasonal fruits and vegetables will not only be less expensive, but it’s a great way to vary your meals. Stay within these guidelines and you may find yourself incorporating vegetables that the ordinary consumer has seldom used. I used celery root for the first time recently because it was in season. It made an interesting addition to a quick luncheon salad.

A thought that goes hand in hand with buying seasonal vegetables is that buying local supports the neighborhood farms. Find farmer’s markets in the area where you live and frequent them so you can get to know the farmers, the produce they grow and how it’s grown. Something that always goes through my mind when I am food shopping at a grocery store or at a farmer’s market is what did it take for that piece of fruit to get to this store, or how much effort went into growing the fruit or vegetables? Ideally, I would love it if my response was “the neighborhood farm grew this yellow squash” or “the local apple orchard grew these apples.” Local farms are not as prevalent in my hometown, but the farmers markets bring them to me.

Here’s an example of building your menu using locally grown asparagus in season. On Monday, prepare a chicken and pasta dish, including fresh asparagus sprinkled with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. To build off of Monday’s dinner for Tuesday, plan homemade chicken tenders with roasted asparagus and tomatoes with whole wheat couscous garnished with feta cheese (home crumbled, of course) and chives. For Wednesday, build off of Monday and Tuesday by cooking up the remaining whole wheat pasta and once cooked, add cherry tomatoes and spinach, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. (You can also add Italian sausage for the meat lovers out there.)

Here’s the lineup in more detail:

Monday’s Meal – Pasta tossed with Chicken, asparagus and Parmesan cheese

Brown chicken in a saute pan
Saute asparagus
Cook whole wheat pasta, strain
Drizzle olive oil over cooked pasta and sprinkle Parmesan cheese and garlic pepper
Add chicken and asparagus and toss
Serve on warmed plate

Tuesday’s Meal – Chicken tenders, roasted asparagus and cherry tomatoes, whole wheat couscous garnished with feta and chives.

Wash asparagus and tomatoes, place on baking sheet, drizzle oil and pepper
Place in 400-degree oven, cook for approximately 20 minutes
Fill deep pan with canola oil and turn heat on medium, flour chicken tenders and place in oil
Cook couscous about 10 minutes before you are ready to eat
Chop chives and crumble feta cheese, set aside
Combine chives and feta with couscous
Serve on a warm plate

Wednesday’s Meal – Whole Wheat Pasta tossed with Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach (Italian Sausage optional)
Cook remaining whole wheat pasta
Once done, toss with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, spinach and Parmesan cheese.

These recipes are so easy and should not take longer than 30 minutes from start to plate. When you are preparing the pasta, you only need to use enough of the box to serve you and your dinner guests. Remember to portion out your meals so you do not have the opportunity to over eat. The goal at the end of these easy but delicious meals is to be satisfied, not uncomfortably full.

Remember, plan ahead, write it down, buy seasonal and buy local!

Emily Horton is currently training at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. She can be reached at [email protected]

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