Work can sometimes consume us to the extent that we get home most nights too late to bother with cooking even a basic meal. This often results in us taking the easier option of ordering a pizza or some other fast food. Yes, it may be convenient but it's not healthy and certainly not cost effective either when done on a regular basis.
There is a quicker way to create fast, tasty food and that's through simple meal planning. Hopefully, the following three strategies will empower you to plan your meals in advance, so that you can arrive home and start cooking a healthy, cost effective meal with as little effort/hassle as possible.
Planning a meal does take time but the finished product is, in my opinion, totally worth it. Being somebody who enjoys eating healthily and looking after my body, I'm not a fan of fast food at all. I was involved in a discussion recently about how I prepare my dinners for when I get home during the week and realised that this might be useful to Buckscoop readers as well. So I've decided to share them with you here.
Not only does the meal planning save me time, but by doing so I find that I actually reduce my food bill too, not to mention my stress levels. Yet when I say meal planning, I’m not referring to picking out a bunch of recipes from cookbooks and getting all of the ingredients to create extravagant meals in advance. No, we’re talking about a far simpler approach than that.
Step 1 – Stock up on the Basics
The trick here is to not buy ingredients for one or two specific meals, but to stock up on food that you eat often and that can be easily mixed and matched e.g. chicken, minced meat or turkey. Look at your or your family’s eating habits to help you decide what to stock up on.
This entire post bases itself on these primary ingredients, because they are the roots to which you will branch off and create different meals from. When prices are low, or meats are discounted it’s a great idea to stock up on them to save more money. Simply freeze the excess to prolong its life and prevent spoilage.
You would be surprised how many ways there are to serve up chicken, cheese, rice and vegetables making it look like a different meal each time.
These are the basics I use:
- Meat – Chicken, Minced Meat, Turkey and Pork
- Pantry – Rice, Pasta, Soup, Tortillas, Bread, Garlic, Potatoes, Eggs
- Freezer – Frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, frozen leftovers
- Dairy – Butter, Milk, Yogurt, Cheese
Your basics may differ and that’s completely fine, just ensure you have enough of the basics to suit your taste buds.
Step 2 – Favourite Meals
If you haven’t got a basic selection of meals then its time to start creating some which you and the whole family can enjoy (based on the basic ingredients chosen above). The reason for this is to find some consistency in what you will all eat so you have a basic model of home cooked food that you can return to time and time again. Here are some examples to help you out with suggestions the next time you're short on quick dinner ideas:
- Chicken + Frozen Vegetables + Pasta + Rice = Creamy Pasta
- Minced Meat + Frozen Vegetables + Rice + Tortillas + Cheese = Tacos
- Chicken + Frozen Vegetables + Cheese + Tortillas + Garlic = Fajitas
- Cheese + Pasta + Milk = Macaroni and Cheese
- Chicken + Frozen Vegetables + Rice = Stir Fry
- Frozen Fruit + Yogurt + Milk = Smoothies
- Turkey + Frozen Vegetables + Potatoes = Turkey and Mashed Potato
If you want to start learning how to cook the meals above, then there is a little bit more to them than just adding all ingredients together, but generally they are very simple to make. You will no doubt find countless recipes online for any of the recipes above as well (useful if you're looking for small variations to keep things interesting). However, whilst still within the training phase, you're allowed to keep a couple of frozen pizzas on hand just in case you literally have no time at all, because these are also a very cost effective way to have a quick back up meal. They can also be made slightly 'more healthy' if you put plenty of veggies and less cheese on them.
Step 3 – Double Up
You should look at bulking up on the ingredients you buy in order to double up your meals when you cook, effectively producing more than one meal in a single effort. Doing this can buy you back time, because on a night when you don’t feel like cooking at all, simply whack out one of last weeks frozen meals and hey presto, you’ve just landed on easy street.
If you want to learn more about what you can and cant freeze, then refer to my ‘What Foods can be Frozen’ article.
Throughout the year your meal plan may vary depending on the foods available in the supermarket or the seasons you are in. However, the more comfortable you become with your basics, the more you can start experimenting with changing things up at the dinner table.