Whenever I get home from school I’m usually tired and frazzled. Still, I almost always look forward to cooking dinner for Terry and I . Cooking is very therapeutic for me- I decompress with the chopping, slicing, and mixing. However, sometimes I’m just so rushed I don’t feel like being super creative or trying a new recipe. Terry has volunteered to cook and sometimes he will if I have a night class which is super helpful, but I don’t want to pass that torch because I love cooking.
So here’s my thinking process for getting the dinner on the table fast.
Whenever I am planning a meal I always think about three main components. First and foremost, I ask myself what vegetable are we having? Starting with the vegetable keeps us from eating the same old vegetables, i.e. canned green beans. Also, it helps us save money. If meat was the star of every meal, we would not be able to have much variety elsewhere. So it is great for the heart and the wallet.
Some of my favorite vegetables to cook: roasted broccoli, sauteed spinach, carrot fries, and zucchini noodles.
Next, I think protein. Remember protein does not have to be meat! For instance, even peas are are great source of protein. I usually only cook meat two to three nights a week. You probably think Terry hates me for that, but he rarely complains. He will often get meat when he goes out or he will make a meat sandwich for lunch. By cutting back on meat we save so much money- plus it is better for the environment and helps us to get a wider variety of foods in too.
Favorite proteins: beans (kidney, black, great northern), ground turkey meat, eggs, cheese, tuna patties, lentils, chicken tenderloins, salmon fillets (if we’re lucky)
Third, carbohydrates! This is an easy one, because there are soooo many options. My all-time favorite is roasted potatoes, but other favorites include whole-grain noodles (all kinds- penne, rigatoni, spaghetti), rice, bread (for sandwiches or garlic bread), baked potatoes, corn, flat bread (for pizza or sandwiches).
I also always make sure we have some fat in our meals too, but this is easy because usually I cook with olive oil or include a little bit of cheese/sour cream/butter.
So I take these three main components and figure out a good combination. I take the basic ingredients and add spices or sauces to bring the dish to the next level. For example:
Eggs + broccoli + cheese + bread = Fritratas and toast with butter
Tuna + potatoes + spinach= Tuna patties with baked fries and sauteed spinach
Ground turkey + zucchini + marinara + bread = zoodles topped with spaghetti meat and garlic bread
Refried beans + whole grain tortillas + onions/zucchini= enchiladas
Like I said, these are just the basics- we improvise with toppings etc. as we go. On weekends, I use the time to try out new recipes and do food prep so the week will go a little smoother.
This method of meal planning isn’t an exact science, but using this methodology helps reduce stress, save money from not going out, and keep us fed.
And if I just know I will not be in the mood to cook when I get home, the crock pot is my fall back.
But it never disappoints. In fact, go make this lasagna ASAP. I am definitely learning lots as I go, so I think it will be fun to read what I did now five or ten years in the future. Hopefully, I will still love to cook!
What are your meal planning tactics?