Grilled Miso Chicken + Schedules & Menu Planning
Finding freedom within structure... and menu planning.
Happy Friday, friends. Today’s miso chicken recipe (with a vegetarian option) is one of those weeknight superheroes that my whole family loves. But most importantly, I love it (and I’m the cook, so that matters). This is my favorite chicken marinade, period, and I hope you’ll love it too. It’s perfect for weeknights and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, let’s talk SCHEDULES… and freedom… and menu planning.
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School starts next week, and I’ve been thinking about freedom versus structure—schedules versus spontaneity. While I’m not usually a very spontaneous person, spontaneity was a big theme of my summer, with last-minute trips, working on the road, and flowing into new spaces and routines (or lack thereof). Once school starts our routines are about to get a heck of a lot more defined. 5:45am wake-up, seeing the kids off to school at 7am and 8am, work all day, shuttling the girls to after-school activities (while still squeezing in last-minute work tasks), dinner, bedtime. Go to sleep and start it all over again.
There’s a part of me that’s dreading it, but there’s also a part of me that’s excited for the back-to-school schedule. To be honest, I thrive with routines. I love having a sense of structure to my days. But I also need space to breathe. I’ve found that I fall into a state of overwhelm (or, conversely, I flounder) when there is zero structure or planning, but the same is true when the scheduling gets too detailed or it feels like every hour is accounted for.
Freedom within structure
Freedom and structure are not opposites in a binary system, as I believed for many years of my life. I’ve realized that it’s possible to find freedom within structure. When it comes to my work, I’ve found that I function much better with a weekly to-do list instead of a daily hour-by-hour task list (just writing that makes me feel overwhelmed). While I still have scheduled meetings, photo shoots and podcast calls on my calendar, I also leave space for improvisation. This gives me the freedom to tackle different tasks each day as I flow into them (and somehow everything always gets done by deadline).
Freedom is individual
The way I experience freedom, however, will look different from the way you experience freedom (perhaps a detailed calendar brings you joy and expansiveness!). The same is true in the kitchen. We all need to find our own balance—or synergy—between spontaneity and structure, between planning and improvisation.
Take menu planning, for instance. Like with my work, I need some structure, and I need to feel the freedom within that structure to improvise and change. My strategy is to make a rough menu on the back of my grocery list every week for Tuesday through Friday (I do my grocery shopping on Tuesdays, and on Mondays I wing it with a clean-out-the fridge pantry meal). I don’t usually plan for Saturday and Sunday, as we will hit up our local farm stand, butcher or fishmonger (or go out one night). Those are my nights to get creative in the kitchen, or make something more involved.
As far as my weeknight menu plan goes, usually I’m testing a few specific recipes, but for the other meals I like to keep it loose. One night might just say “tacos” or “pasta with veggies.” That helps me to know what I need to buy (tortillas! spaghetti!), but gives me some freedom to play.
If I didn’t have this framework, then I’d inevitably end up in the 5:30pm freeze, when I’m starving and standing in front of my fridge like a deer in headlights. But too much planning feels restrictive, like I’m being boxed in. There’s a balance, and it’s up to me to find my own freedom within the container of my menu plan.
We’re in charge of our own freedom
We’re all in charge of our own freedom. While we have schedules and deadlines to uphold, it’s up to us to find our own sense of freedom within those structures. Nobody else can do this for us.
If you’re starting to feel boxed in within your mealtime routine, then perhaps it’s time for a shift. Sometimes the smallest of actions—committing to take-out once or twice a week, having a kid or partner cook a meal, changing the dinner hour from 5:30 to 7:00, improvising more, planning more, simplifying—can take the lid off the box, allowing you to feel more free.
Invitation this week
Okay, so here’s the thing: the box actually doesn’t exist. It’s just a feeling. Freedom is also just a feeling (in the terms we’re talking about here). My invitation to you this week is to investigate what freedom feels like for you. What makes you feel expansive? Is it a detailed plan, a loose outline, or a packed calendar? While we all have schedules (and dinnertimes) to uphold, are there ways you can bring a feeling of greater freedom and flow into your routines?
Grilled Miso Chicken
When it comes to easy, adaptable dinners, this one is at the top of my list (in fact, I think it’s number one). It’s the perfect dinner to explore the balance between freedom and structure. The marinade recipe—the only part that requires “structure,” as you do need to follow the recipe—results in gloriously tender, juicy meat that’s robustly flavored with miso, garlic, ginger and rice vinegar (see below for a vegetarian option).
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