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Planning your weekly meals and keeping a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator will save you time in the kitchen. Use the simple strategies outlined here for putting together your weekly menus, organizing your shopping trips and getting the most out of your hands-on cooking time. Then, no matter how packed your daily schedule is, you will be able to prepare satisfying weeknight dinners with ease.

For easy side-dish ideas and shortcut suppers, click on the links at right.

Plan your meals
Look at the whole week: By thinking of the week as a whole, you will be able to vary your meals and make all your menus interesting. Keep your schedule in mind as you plan. Extra-busy evenings might call for a simple soup, sandwich or salad meal that can be assembled quickly. Celebrations or even casual get-togethers with friends can be a good excuse for putting more festive dishes like braised pork chops or lamb tagine on the table. Vary your cooking techniques and flavors from night to nightan Asian stir-fry one night, a hearty pasta the next and braised chicken on the third night.

Get everyone involved: Enlist kids and other family members to help plan the weeks menus, and they will enjoy every minute of it. Encourage them to help with the cooking and cleanup, too.

Plan for leftovers: Make a simple recipe that has a big yield: grill a tri-tip, pan-sear chicken breasts, roast a pork loin. It takes about the same amount of cooking time as a smaller portion, and the leftovers are a great time-saver when you need a satisfying dish fast. Use the leftovers to make new dishes with new flavors.

Let the seasons be your guide: You will save money and find better, fresher ingredients if you shop and cook with the seasons. Imported, out-of-season vegetables and fruits typically are more expensive and often lacking in fresh-picked flavor. Plan menus that match the weather, too: lighter dishes in the spring and summer and heartier fare when the weather turns cold.

Spring: Serve light dishes based on poultry or veal and flavored with plenty of fresh, delicate herbs, such as dill, basil, chervil and mint. Use fresh vegetables like asparagus, leeks, new potatoes and spring greens.

Summer: Grilled meats, picnic fare such as spareribs and fried chicken, and bright, bold flavors marry well with the casual style of warm-weather dining. Pair main dishes with tomato salads, corn on the cob and grilled vegetables such as eggplant, red onions, zucchini and bell peppers.

Autumn: Roasted meats and poultry herald the return of cool weather. Celebrate the seasonal harvest with pumpkins and acorn squashes, and root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, beets, carrots and turnips.

Winter: Stews and braises fill the house with wonderful aromas during this chilly season. Accompany them with sautéed greens like kale and chard, or with salads made from winter-friendly ingredients like Belgian endive and Asian pears or citrus.

Make it easy
Prep ahead: Prep ingredients the night before: chop vegetables, pound veal cutlets, prepare marinades or skewer steak kabobs. Store ingredients in airtight containers in the refrigerator until needed.

Use the right tools: Good knives are indispensable to working efficiently in the kitchen. Start with an 8-inch chefs knife, a paring knife, a bread knife and a knife sharpener. You also need a fry pan, a roasting pan with a rack, and several heavy-bottomed saucepans in an assortment of sizes.

Ready your ingredients: When you start a recipe, take out and measure all your ingredients. That way, you will not have to dig through the pantry in search of sesame seeds or cider vinegar at the last minute, and counters will not be cluttered with cartons and jars. Pick up a set of small nested bowls in graduated sizes for holding the ingredients.

Clean as you go: Keep your kitchen organized by cleaning up as you go. Start out with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher, and make sure you have clean dish towels on hand. Put away ingredients as you use them, wipe down your work surfaces frequently, and move used pans and bowls to the sink or dishwasher once you are done with them. Fill dirty pans with hot water to soak while you are eating; by the time you are back in the kitchen, any browned-on food will be easier to scrub off.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Simple Suppers, by Melanie Barnard (Oxmoor House, 2007).