We describe and rigorously justify the nonlinear interaction of highly oscillatory waves in nonlinear Schrödinger equations, posed on Euclidean space or on the torus. Our scaling corresponds to a weakly nonlinear regime where the nonlinearity affects the leading order amplitude of the solution, but does not alter the rapid oscillations. We consider initial states which are superpositions of slowly modulated plane waves, and use the framework of Wiener algebras. A detailed analysis of the corresponding nonlinear wave mixing phenomena is given, including a geometric interpretation of the resonance structure for cubic nonlinearities. As an application, we recover and extend some instability results for the nonlinear Schrödinger equation on the torus in negative order Sobolev spaces. © 2010 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.