5 Ways I Plan for Meals Without Being a Meal Planner
I've tried ten thousand ways since Tuesday to become a pinterest-worthy "meal planner" ... and ... spoiler alert - I just can't do it. Here's the problem - I'm a "eat what I feel like" type of person - so if lasagna doesn't sound good, but it's on the "meal plan", not only am I irritable making it, but I usually don't eat it (even when the rest of the family does). I realize this makes me sound totally high maintenance, but to be honest, I'm the least "foodie" person there ever was. I feel the same way about packing in outfits for a trip (I pack all my favorite pieces and put on what feels good for that day), or even when planning my day (unless we make plans with other people, in which case I hold up my end of the bargain, even if/when I don't feel like it :) One other problem: I'm the person who always forgets ONE thing at the store. I mean seriously?! Am I the only one who does this?!
Here are 5 ways I've worked around my strange emotional cooking habits:
1. A Stocked Pantry: There's a ton of dry pantry ingredients that have a decent shelf life - we tend to keep those stocked up so that if the desire for a specific dish strikes, I have the essentials. I always have multiple jars of red sauce (trader joes is our favorite), a variety of noodles, dry soup mixes, salad toppings (i.e. nuts, won-tons, seeds, dried fruit, ect), bread, tortillas, canned tomatoes and other mixing soups, spices, broths, ect. If we use something up for a meal, I add it back into my grocery list so I can have it for the next time it's needed on a whim!
2. (You guessed it) A Stocked Fridge: The same goes for the fridge - I always have cooking essentials on hand - things like soy sauce & teriyaki sauce (easy to pair with frozen stir fry veggies), salad dressings, eggs, butter, heavy cream (for making a white cheese sauce), a variety of cheeses (we always have parmesan, gruyere, flagship white cheddar, brie, a mexican blend, and mozeralla on hand) and of course fruits & veggies (more on this in a minute). Things don't last as long in the fridge, but I keep an eye out on what needs to be used and will try to incorporate them into dinner if need-be. We keep the fridge organized by categories, so that it's easy to see what's "in stock" & what we need to buy!
3. Buy Frozen: We keep a ton of frozen items on hand. This ranges from organic frozen vegetables (perfect side dishes or thrown in to whatever you're making), frozen fruit if we're doing breakfast for dinner, and bulk meat. I buy organic ground turkey, bacon, organic chicken breast and organic pork chops in bulk from costco and use our vaccuum sealer to package them up in meal-ready pouches (does anyone else still use their vaccuum sealer?!). This ensures we always have a protein on hand and it makes last minute dinner decisions a bit easier. We also always have a frozen pizza on hand, because you never know when you'll need a frozen pizza (omg, who am i?) And P.S.A. - Beecher's Frozen Mac & Cheese is TO-DIE for. Costco sells it, it's delicious and so easy.
4. Go-To Options: There are times where I feel like really diving into a recipe and will go big for dinner, and there are some nights where dinner is the LAST thing on my list. Collin travels often for work, the kids have things going on some evenings, and the busy-ness of life just makes dinner feel like a chore some nights. In this case, we have our go-to meals that everyone eats, that we're prepared for, and that are quick & easy. This varies for every family, obviously, but ours are spaghetti (I'll mix in a salad if we have fresh veggies & lettuce, otherwise we'll steam frozen broccoli or zucchini as a side), gourmet grilled cheese (french bread - which we keep in the freezer - bacon, grilled onion and gruyere cheese), or eggs & ham with smoothies. These are staples around here that we eat at least twice a month.
5. Fresh Produce: I tend to buy whatever produce is on sale at the grocery store (along with what necessities we need for dinners that we do have planned - i.e. if we're entertaining) - this is often times what is in season and keeps a good rotation so that we don't get sick of eating the same thing (roasted sweet potatoes - wore those out a couple months ago!) over & over. I try to keep a good variety in the fridge, stuff the kids can eat for breakfast & lunch but that's versatile enough to jump into dinner. We always have bananas, apples, at least one type of berries, a couple types of lettuce and onions and potatoes on hand. This gets us pretty far, but some of our favorites that we add in occasionally are artichokes, grapes, asian pears, asparagus, and brussels sprouts (I shred these up with olive oil, salt & pepper and the kids can't get enough).
As far as breakfast & lunch go - it's a pretty standard mix of whatever is in the pantry or fridge. We do lots of yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, sandwiches, wraps, fun lunch, and eggs.
Overall, it's about keeping your favorites on hand, making sure you have the essentials (and a few of the not so essentials) and getting creative come dinner time! It's not for everyone, but it works great for us! Hope this helps those of you who suck at meal planning as much as I do ;)