MANCHESTER — Susan Nicholson lost count long ago of just how many meals she has planned over the last 24 years.
As the author of the weekly syndicated feature 7-Day Menu Planner, Nicholson has been mapping out a full week of meals for a national audience of newspaper readers crunched for time and inspiration.
“My philosophy has always been that people don’t hate to cook as much as they hate to think about what to have for dinner,” Nicholson said this month during a visit to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “The idea of what to have? I myself have that problem.”
As do many people, which is why Nicholson’s weekly menus have proved so popular over a sustained run that just entered its 25th year.
“I’m thrilled,” Nicholson said. “It makes me very proud that the 7-Day Menu Planner still exists and is still feeding families — and giving ideas to frustrated cooks about what to plan for dinner.”
Nicholson tries to keep variety a part of each weekly plan, which breaks down each night into categories like “Budget,” “Kids,” “Meatless” and “Easy Entertaining.” For nights when the cook is especially pressed for time, there are dishes falling under the “Heat & Eat” and “Express” categories.
Nicholson also tries to mix up which category falls on what night, breaking up the monotony of “Meatless Monday” and other days tied to particular dishes or cuisine.
“I wanted it to have more variety than that,” she said.
Nicholson’s background is in nutrition, which she tries to emphasize throughout the weekly menu. She said eating healthy is one of the main motivators behind planning meals in advance. The other is money.
“For people on a budget, it’s a great way to rein in spending,” she said. “And it’s so much better for you.”
Nicholson said she feels strongly that one of the missions of her weekly planner is to promote healthy choices when it comes to food.
Her first cookbook was titled “Save Your Heart With Susan: Six Easy Steps to Cooking Delicious Healthy Meals in a Microwave,” published in 1991.
A few years later, Nicholson said, she was writing a food column called “Cheap Eats” for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. An editor at the AJC wanted Nicholson to go beyond the bottom line and overhaul an existing weekly menu planner by making it more healthful and more practical.
“She thought I was the right person for that job because I am a very frugal person and I’m a very practical person, so it fit right into my whole being,” Nicholson recalled.
It still does. The planner went into syndication in 1998 and has an audience of more than 2 million readers, according to Uxexpress, the syndicate that publishes Nicholson’s weekly planner.
Uxexpress said the 7-Day Menu Planner has more than 25 subscribing newspapers, one of which is the New Hampshire Sunday News.
Nicholson and her husband, Nick, were visiting friends in New Hampshire this month when she stopped by the newsroom for a quick visit.
Nicholson said travel is another one of her passions, and she enjoys picking up new recipes and ideas while exploring new places.
“I love to travel and I love to eat so I have the perfect job, I think,” she said.
She also enjoys hearing from readers, who provide some direct feedback that helps Nicholson keep coming up with new combinations for a week’s worth of meals. So how many more seven-day menu plans does Nicholson want to produce?
“I don’t know. I’m very happy doing it,” she said. “I like discovering new things. I like trying new combinations of foods and putting them together.”
“Writing a menu is like putting a puzzle together, and I like that.”