Susan Nicholson understands reluctant and otherwise kitchen-averse cooks.
"People don't hate to cook nearly as much as they hate to plan," she says.
So Nicholson has made a career out of doing the planning for you. Since 1995, she's written a column called "The 7-Day Menu Planner," starting at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now syndicated in more than 40 newspapers including The Buffalo News.
Having created weeklong menus for more than 15 years, it was only a slightly epic task to compile a full year of menus for her new book, "7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies" (Wiley, $19.99).
The book has menu suggestions, in chronological order, for 364 days -- plus 10 suggestions for when you've forgotten to shop or when you just want something different.
One organizational technique Nicholson uses is dividing each week of menus into seven "theme nights": family, kids, express, budget, heat and eat, meatless and easy entertaining. These aren't intended to be hard-and-fast categories for all families; some of Nicholson's whimsical suggestions include "Susie cooks night" (assuming, of course, someone in your family is named Susie) and "bring it from the deli night."
The latter category reflects Nicholson's approach toward serving premade food: You can do it sparingly, as long as you stick with a plan.
Talking by phone from her home in Atlanta, she notes that each week's menu doesn't include recipes for every dish.
"It's not just recipes," Nicholson says. "Sometimes it's just an idea for what to have for dinner."
Although her menus do not specifically address budgeting or healthy eating, those are intended to be side effects of the planning process. One meal might call for lamb chops, but they're intended to be the "splurge" meal (or meals, since they're reheated for another evening's menu) of the week.
"My target readers are families who are neither rich nor poor," Nicholson says.
A registered dietitian, she devotes a chapter to choosing healthy foods, paying attention to nutritional labeling and increasing fiber, vitamins and minerals while decreasing fats, cholesterol and sodium. All the recipes include nutritional analysis (done by a different registered dietitian).
Nicholson continued to write her weekly column during the year she was working on the book.
"I'd be on a different season with the column versus what I was doing in the book," she says. "I was two people trying to keep separate from each other."
All the while, she maintained her blog, makingthemenu.com. The process was exhausting.
"My brain is now empty," she quips. "I've had to do some refueling since then."
But she's proud of the outcome."There really isn't any book like this," she says. "There are 10 zillion billion recipe books, but this is the only one that tells you how to plan, then gives you a plan, then tells you what to have for dinner for an entire year."