Whenever I see a meal plan, my brain registers it as meal ideas. There are food combinations that I might enjoy, ones I'm not interested in, and ones where I would add or subtract elements to make them work. Actually following someone else's meal plan doesn't occur to me anymore. It worked for the other person because it was their own, just like my eating has to be my own. A meal plan doesn't know how hungry I am, or that I'm sick of oatmeal, or craving something hot and savory. My brain and stomach know. All I have to do is buy them some tasty groceries that I look forward to eating, and then I can decide what I want as I go. I tend to go through phases where I love a particular meal and eat it frequently until I get bored with it or fall in love with something else. I'll have several meals that I love and keep in the mix each week. Then new ones appear and old ones fade away as I find even tastier combinations. But at no point am I going to make a plan and stick to it, or eat anything I don't like, or eat anything unsatisfying. And forget having a whole bunch of recipes that I have to grocery shop for and prep. I can handle that maybe once a week, not four times a day. So my meals are mostly things I can make quickly with food I keep on hand. Spaghetti, tacos, pizza, sandwiches, macaroni, soup, beans, rice, stir fry, and frozen items I can reheat. I need to be able to walk into the kitchen, think about what sounds good, and be eating it in 10-20 minutes, under five if I have leftovers or feel lazy. If I have to mess up the whole kitchen and wait an hour, forget it.
Thank about food combinations that you find both easy and satisfying. Maybe you make some of it ahead of time, but you need to be able to change your mind and still have something good to eat quickly. For me, it kind of looks like, "Well, I was going to make tortilla pizzas but I'm too impatient for the oven to preheat, so I'll open a can of beans, roll them in a tortilla and stick it in the microwave instead." It's a meal, but it's phenomenally simple, and the fun/satisfaction part comes from the guacamole, tortilla chips, cheese, dessert etc. I try to never eat "clean." It's counterproductive because it's so unsatisfying. Satisfaction is the key to everything.
I like having fallback meals. These are meals you can put together quickly from ingredients you always keep on hand. They’re meal combos that don’t take much (or any) effort. Some may take time but are very easy. Others take no time at all. I rely on my freezer and cupboards over needing lots of fresh ingredients that I have to prep or that will rot if I don’t find a use for them right away. Fresh is great. I eat lots of fresh ingredients, but if it’s all you have, the meal situation is going to start getting sketchy when you haven’t had time to shop. That’s where fallback meals are really important.
Foods I always keep around:
Dry pasta and a jar of marinara sauce
Pizza crusts (or pitas, or flour tortillas), frozen veggies, canned olives, tomato sauce
Brown rice, frozen stir fry vegetables, soy sauce
Yummy bread, peanut butter, jelly
Canned refried beans, corn or flour tortillas, salsa, Wholy Guacamole
Bagged salad mix, bottled dressings
Cereal and milk
The pickles/onions/mayo/mustard necessary to turn anything into a salad (tuna, potatoes, chicken, chickpeas) on toast or crackers
Frozen veggie burgers and buns. Awesome with a pan of oven fries or roasted veggies
Waffles, butter, and maple syrup (or any topping like peanut butter, honey, banana, blueberries, jam)
Canned soup and a box of crackers.
This way I never come home tired and end up eating protein bars and TicTacs for dinner.
I would love to know what kind of foods and meal combinations you keep on hand for busy times. You know, the ones that are so simple there’s no real recipe involved but so good that you eat them regularly.
oh, I forgot about Old El Paso taco/burrito and fajita kits. You do have to defrost and cook meat with them (if you eat meat) but they are still a quick easy meal.
I like to have easy, spontaneous meal options in the house too. Now that I allow myself to eat foods out of jars and packets and buy pre-prepared foods it makes my life so much easier than when I had to make everything from scratch. Things I always have on hand: - pasta - white rice - potatoes - tomato pasta sauce - canned beans and corn - heaps of different sauces, vinegars, salad dressing, mustard, mayo, aoli - variety of cheeses - burger patties -frozen salmon - minced beef - chicken schnitzels (these are great if we need a quick dinner) -cold chicken or ham for sandwiches - bread, wraps, rolls - I always have baking stuff flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, cocoa, chocolate chips because you never know when you might want cake, cookies or pudding - Dried fruit and nuts - a variety of vegetables, whatever looked good at the time, more salad ingredients in summer
Some of my fallback meals:
1) Eggs, frozen pepper/onion mix, cheese, bread for a quick veggie omelet and toast
2) Frozen leftover rice, frozen mixed vegetables, eggs, peanuts for fried rice
3) Cans of refried beans, tortillas, cheese, salsa for quesadillas
I pretty much always have rice/barley/bulgur wheat/some type of grain, canned beans and chickpeas, and frozen vegetables around, so those are really good in various combinations.
I forgot another discovery I've found - frozen "riced" vegetables. So, you can buy a bag of like broccoli, carrots and cauliflower cut up into teeny tiny pieces. I cook that in some olive oil and add it to lentils, rice, beans, or quinoa to quickly make them "fancy" without having to stand at the cutting board chopping up a bunch of different vegetables.
I also discovered a couple weeks ago that a pan of lentils on the stove and a sheet pan of frozen vegetables roasting in the oven take about the same time to cook (30ish minutes). They are tasty eaten together, and I can check my email and watch cat videos while they cook.
I love hearing all the go-to meal ideas!
Oh, and I forgot canned fish. My husband recently went through a phase and now we always have a wide variety stocked tuna/bonito/mackerel/sardines in oil/water/miso. They’re so versatile in pasta dishes, stews, or just eaten plain on top of rice. We always also have a ton of milk, eggs, yogurt, and sausages because the kids fly through those at a ridiculous pace. We also always have natto (fermented soybeans?) to eat with rice as a cheap and easy meal.
Pasta and rice are our main go-to meals. We always have a variety of dried pasta and (this being Asia) cook rice once or twice a day so that’s always ready and waiting. I always have the fridge stocked with a bunch of assorted vegetables and meat/fish in the freezer. So whenever there’s no plan, we usually either make some sort of oil/cream/tomato pasta sauce with a random variation of vegetables/meat, or a variation on some sort of boiled/stir-fried/deep fried Japanese dish to go with rice. Or fried rice or curry/stew on rice made with packaged roux, that happens a lot too. I’ve become incredibly spontaneous with my cooking so I also tend to just stock up on ingredients and cook on a whim, unless someone wants something specific and then I’ll just make a quick trip to the store. We have a lot of grocery stores nearby and I’m always out and about anyway so I just buy food for the day spontaneously often too. I always wrap and keep even just tiny bits and bites of whatever is leftover from dishes that I reheat and put together for mish-mashed lunches for myself. To be honest we also eat out/order in takeout pizza or sushi or ramen or whatever several meals a week too, just because cooking and cleaning up three times a day while looking after small kids is a lot of work. And because it’ll be too expensive once they eat proper quantities of food, lol. In short, my brain cannot compute the idea of a meal plan anymore. I know it’s my past talking, but I still feel slightly allergic to anything that resembles a diet plan. I do remember a time when it used to feel only safe to eat the same foods and the same meals, but that just doesn’t fit into my lifestyle or my family’s lifestyle anymore. Too stressful, deciding and eating on a whim feels so much easier, and as long as I shop for discount produce it’s not a budget issue either.
I'm a big fan of always having stuff on hand for quick and easy meals when things are busy. When I make bolgenese sauce or chilli I do big batches so that I can freeze some. All winter long we always have dinner sized portions of each in the freezer. I also always have rice, pasta and perogies on hand along with jarred marinara sauce. Eggs and bread make a good "breakfast for dinner". We also always have stuff on hand for sandwiches. Canned soup. Canned tuna. Canned salmon Canned seasoned diced tomatoes which go great in rice or added to pasta with a little cream, milk or cream cheese. Frozen pre-cooked chicken for soup, sandwiches or salads. Waffles. Pre-made frozen pizzas (our favourites are Delissio Vintage).