The exclamation “I have NO idea what to cook tonight and there is no food in the fridge!” does not justify eating cereal for dinner for three months straight. When I lived with my parents, I would often look in the fridge — even if I wasn’t hungry (the ‘boredom check’) — and whine there was nothing to eat. My mom was a whiz. She would say, “There are at least three meals in there!” and prove it to me by making up one of them. Now, either I am the smartest person on the planet, who could consistently manipulate someone into making me food, or I just lacked the creativity and skill required to properly nourish myself.
Well, maybe both. But I don’t live with my mom any more, so now I’m on the hook for making meals — but I was still making the same complaint. To make matters worse, I noticed I was spending hundreds of dollars each month on eating out! It took wisdom, and humility to realize my lifestyle was out of control.
I needed a plan, so I got a plan. I got my eating back on budget, and made sure I was eating healthy.
Meal planning & shopping
I look online, in recipe books and on forums with friends to get recipes for meals that are creative, easy and tasty — or whatever I have time for.
The meal plan can be for the week, or for the month. It can be for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks or just dinner. Having 10 – 20 plans in rotation for a few months helps keep a food budget predictable, makes the prep and cooking easier and requires less time to hunt down brand new recipes each week.
Having a ‘wild card’ night where a new recipe is introduced, or a ‘take a break’ night where eating out is a special event, can make the plan feel fresh and sustainable. Creating a shopping list, I go out for one big shop, or break it up over the week/month, taking into account the freshness of the ingredients.
Meat, for example, can be purchased a few days in advance, but any longer and it needs to be frozen. By sticking to a plan, the fridge is not only full of food, but food that has a purpose.
Two meals, one night
There are two versions. The first is making two meals in one night, and either freezing the second meal, or cooking and serving it the next day. The two recipes can be totally different or can require similar ingredients for efficiency.
For example, one night I made a frittata for dinner and did the prep for stuffed pasta shells at the same time (it sounds way more time-consuming than it is). By the time I had my dinner ready, I also had the stuffed shells in a pan ready to go. The next day, I simply turned the oven on and baked them fresh for dinner. The second version is saving extra ingredients in a recipe one night, and using them for the next meal (see the two recipes below). Cooking extra pasta dish ingredients can make a minestrone soup the next day in minutes.
So here is a plan: a meal plan. I think that sounds better than most plans since it involves eating, and I like eating.
I also like feeling healthy, so I’m less likely to default to the I-didn’t-buy-groceries-so-I-guess-I-will-eat-gummy-bears-and-ice-cream plan.
It also has become a fun way of expressing my creativity, since I used to burn everything, including water when I cooked. Now I see a picture on a recipe page and I make a meal that looks almost, kind of, well, similar to a distant cousin of it. I challenge you to make a plan, use it and then pat yourself on the back or belly in congratulations.
Recipes to start your meal plan:
Pasta with Sausage & Roasted Peppers
6 peppers (any colour but green)
1 package of Italian Sausage (turkey or pork suggested)
1 bottle or 950 ml can of plain tomato sauce
1 package of farfalle, rotini or penne pasta
Seasonings: salt and pepper
Slice peppers into onion ring shape and sized pieces and bake in the oven at 350° until soft and slightly charred — about 40 minutes. Cut or rip into chunks. Squeeze sausage out of the casing into a skillet (med-hi heat) and cook through. Add tomato sauce, chunks of roasted peppers, salt and pepper. Add a bit of the sauce and fresh olive oil to cooked and strained pasta. Serve with the sauce on top of the dish. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Extras from this meal can be used to create Something Like Minestrone Soup
Something Like Minestrone Soup
Extra roasted peppers
Extra cooked Italian Sausage (turkey or pork suggested)
Extra tomato sauce
Extra farfalle, rotini or penne pasta
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 can or 1.5 cups of cooked kidney beans
3 cups of corn (frozen or canned)
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 tetra pak or 4 – 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
Seasonings: 2 tablespoons of Italian spices, 1 tablespoon of garlic powder (or 2 finely chopped cloves), salt and pepper.
In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic until soft. Add celery and carrots until cooked to desired firmness. Add everything else but the pasta (add 1-2 minutes before cooking is done) and bring to a boil, then simmer until all ingredients have been heated and softened. Garnish with a sprinkle of shredded cheese, Parmesan cheese or a wallop of sour cream.
Check out Miriam’s blog: www.goldenthought.blogspot.com