This pandemic stinks. But as far as silver linings go, I love being home, and I try not to take for granted how lucky we have been. I tried new recipes and did some baking. I’ve read several books and spent more time working on this blog. We also got a puppy and cleaned up our yard. I am so much more relaxed and wonder why I can’t live like this all the time.
But I still don’t like spending a lot of time cooking after working late. We are now falling into a pretty good meal planning routine, so I thought I would share our mix-and-match approach.
I started with making a list of easy meals that would keep well (e.g. frozen meat and veggies, pasta/rice, and soup/sandwiches). I tend to design my meals around the meat/starch/veggie model because it’s what I grew up with and casseroles take too long to cook.
- Frozen salmon. It was easier to find fish early on when all of the meat was sold out.
- Eggs. Breakfast for dinner, or homemade stir fry/fried rice.
- Chicken. I bought whatever I could find. I ended up with a bag of chicken leg quarters early on. Not as lean as chicken breast, but higher in iron and flavor. Eventually I was able to get chicken breast and would portion the family size out into 2-3 freezer bags to use as we need. Over time you will figure out what amount works best for you/your family. For my husband and I, we can cook up a third of the pack and have enough for dinner and a bit for lunch the next day. Any more and we get sick of it/throw it out.
- Ground beef. Mostly for burgers or meat sauce.
- Frozen meatballs. I get turkey if they have it. I will add them to pasta or slice to put on pizza or in sandwiches.
- Hot dogs. Not the leanest or greatest source of protein, but they were easy to find in the store and they don’t really go bad.
- Frozen turkey burgers. They cook in the broiler fast. Also were easy to find.
- Chicken sausage. Pre-cooked, tasty, and often on sale.
- Canned beans/lentils. For lunches when I don’t have any leftovers. I’ll add some leftovers veggies in (raw or cooked) and some vinaigrette (homemade or bottled), maybe some cheese, and it will last me about two days’ worth of lunches.
- Cheese. Grilled cheese sandwiches and soup for those rainy days we had.
- Chicken nuggets. Yup.
- Whole wheat bread. For sandwiches, burgers, toast… We have been using actual bread for anything we would need a bread-like product for. It just makes it simpler. I keep it in the fridge to prevent mold.
- Potatoes. I use The Produce Box, and they have been delivering a lot of potatoes every week so I don’t need to worry about them going bad (they last a while anyway). I usually dice and roast them with my chicken sausage, or cut into fries to pair with shredded chicken. 20 minutes in my convection oven (or air fryer, if you have one of those!) make them perfect.
- Brown rice. We actually haven’t done much of this because of the potatoes, but it is always an easy option for fried rice, stir fry, or a simple side for anything else.
- Pizza dough. Easy to make your own if you can find yeast (I can’t!) but normally I grab a few packages of whole wheat dough from the grocery store to freeze.
- Frozen tortellini. Cooks up really fast and tastes great with garlic and olive oil alongside some broiled salmon.
- Frozen pierogis. I had never had pierogis before if you can believe that, but my husband loves them so I have gotten some to have for a side.
Like I mentioned above, I use The Produce Box to deliver produce every week. It usually has salad ingredients and something heartier like asparagus or broccoli. This is usually all the fresh produce we get and instead rely on frozen for later in the week. Sometimes I’ll grab some baby carrots or bell peppers at the store to supplement.
I tried a few new recipes early on. I got Ellie Krieger’s cookbook, Whole in One, from the library before it closed down and have really enjoyed it! The recipes are simple, tasty, and healthy. I try to make new recipes on my short work days or on weekends. That is something to keep in mind when planning meals: consider your future self. If you have a long day, don’t count on cooking when you get home. It’s okay to plan for take-out or easy dinners.
Then the fun begins: mix and match depending on what you’re feeling. Here’s what we’ve done:
- Shredded buffalo or BBQ chicken in the instant pot, paired with homemade fries and salad. The chicken and fries cook at about the same rate here, and I can wash/chop salad while they are cooking. I can also make it with frozen chicken breast with the instant pot if I forget to defrost it.
- Sheet-pan roasted chicken sausage and veggies with the tortellini or pierogies.
- Grilled cheese and tomato soup
- Roasted salmon and veggies (if I have fresh) or steam-in-bag veggies with tortellini
- Homemade chicken and broccoli alfredo for a birthday
- Pizza: buffalo, meatball, peppers and onions… whatever leftovers need to be used up! Pizza is so fast to cook in the oven, and a pizza stone greatly improves the taste/texture if you want to get one.
- Burgers and dogs with grilled veggies (if you don’t have a grill basket, you’re missing out!)
In a typical week, we will rotate a couple of these options, a couple take-out nights, and maybe a new recipe I wanted to try. We almost always have some leftovers to make use of the next night as well.
I hope this is helpful! Meal planning can be hard. You don’t need to have every day planned out. All of these are pretty flexible and can be made at any time.