If you’re new to cooking, or if you’ve just moved out on your own, here are a few simple tips to help you to stock your kitchen so you can put together simple meals and easily prepare delicious, well balanced meals for yourself and your friends and family without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for information about breakfast or lunches, I apologize. This post is mostly focusing on dinner, or supper, ideas, but if you have access to a microwave, leftover dinners can make great lunches. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to pack lunch.
You need four components to put together a meal.
Our simple four part list really works well to put together a meal even if you don’t have a plan.
This category would obviously include meat, but if you’re a vegetarian, this category still applies to you. While the carnivores might be picking up their protein at the meat counter, a vegan would pick up some dried or canned beans, tofu, or meat alternatives such as chicken-less nuggets and boca or beyond burger. If you’re vegetarian, but not vegan, you can add cheese and eggs to your cart as possible sources of protein, too.
This seems like an obvious category, but only about 10% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. Even vegans, sometimes, don’t eat enough fresh produce according to some vegan bloggers. It’s important, for good health, and longevity, to get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. In our house, we try to have two servings of vegetables with our evening meal on most days.
I realize that I labeled this category “produce,” but not every vegetable that you use for your meals needs to come from the produce section. Since fresh fruits and vegetables have a shorter shelf life, this category can also include frozen, and canned, vegetables which can be great building blocks for meals. Using these more shelf stable items, can help cut down on trips to the store which can help you to save money on your groceries, too. Shopping seasonal fresh produce sales will help save money, too.
I don’t know why I used the words side and starch for this category because technically, non starchy vegetables are also a side dish, but, unless you’re on a low carb diet, starches should be included as a part of your meal according to the USDA. Starches include things like grains, rice, pasta, and potatoes. Starches are an inexpensive meal component which also helps to stretch your grocery dollars.
In order to create meals that taste good, you need to combine spices, or sauces, with these other three components in order to create more delectable meals. We have our favorite dried spices here at Patty Cake’s Pantry, but fresh spices are also an option, though, unless you’re growing your own, they don’t last long before they spoil.
There are other things that we use for flavoring our meals that can add tons of flavor with little or no extra effort. These things include bottled dressings and spice packets. Keeping a few of these things on hand can really help to boost the flavor in some simple, easy to prepare meals.
Stock foods from these categories to help create meals.
If you have items from these four categories always stocked in your kitchen, you will always have the building blocks for delicious meals. This will make it much easier for you to get dinner on the table whether it’s a meal for one or for a group. Each of these simple components, when combined, will help you to quickly throw together a meal.
How do these four components work together?
The process to prepare meals using this process is really quite simple.
We’re a family of carnivores, so I plug in my proteins first and figure out what else goes with them. When selecting sides that will go well with these proteins , I first see what’s already in the refrigerator. That helps to cut down on food waste. Wasted food is wasted money and you wouldn’t throw cash into the trash would you?
Let’s look at a few different combination to see how this works.
- Combine thinly sliced steak, broccoli, and bell peppers and cook in an Asian inspired sauce. Combine it with rice, and you have broccoli beef that’s better than take-out.
- Chicken combined with mixed vegetables, a cream of something soup, and a crescent roll crust makes a simple chicken pot pie.
- Roast chicken pieces coated in barbecue sauce on a sheet pan with potatoes and carrots for a complete one pan meal.
- Brown ground beef or Italian sausage with onions, peppers, celery, and carrots and mix with canned tomatoes and spices or a jar of pasta sauce. Serve it over pasta, and you have a delicious pasta bolognese.
- You can also cook some meat, slice it up , and serve it atop a green salad accompanied by a slice of warm garlic bread. You can do this with chicken, shrimp, steak, or even a diced up hamburger.
- A vegetarian option could include beans, canned tomatoes, and spices served over rice or pasta like these Cannellini beans.
- Soups are also great ways to combine all of the components into one simple dish. Add a slice of bread to this tomato lentil soup, and you have all of the components of a great meal.
These are just a few examples to help you create easy and delicious meals from a few simple building blocks that you can pick up at the store and keep in your kitchen. There’s just one more thing that I want to share with you to help you make your life easier.
Don’t forget about your freezer
Even the smallest kitchen freezer can be a huge help with planning meals. If you have leftovers that you know you won’t be able to eat before they’ll go bad, stick them in your freezer. (There are a few things that you shouldn’t freeze, but you can read about that here.) Leftover soups and sauces are great things to keep in your freezer. You can also freeze the meat that you purchased for the week if the best by date is before you plan to use it. Frozen vegetables are a great help for meal prep, too.
Make use of your freezer. It’s even okay buy some convenience food to have on hand, especially if you’re new to cooking. Yes, it often costs more to buy convenience foods than to make them from scratch, but convenience foods are less expensive than picking up takeout or going to a restaurant. Besides, everything doesn’t have to be made from scratch. It’s okay to have a frozen lasagna or some frozen pot pies for those days when you don’t have time or energy to work your culinary magic on those four meal components. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect. It’s completely acceptable to just be human.
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