I admit I love cookbooks! Not really for the recipes but for all THE OTHER info that’s within them. Celebrity cookbooks usually have fabulous pictures of their famous friends and family or gorgeous home. Martina McBride did one a few years ago called, Around the Table, which I enjoyed reading and using her party planning ideas. Not surprising and super fun, she includes music playlist with each of her parties! Another favorite, Anne Bryn of The Cake Mix Doctor includes helpful information in her Dinner Doctor and Saves the Day books like ways to doctor up salad kits and lists of items to always have on hand for fast food prep on busy nights. I have referenced these books several times and given them as gifts as well.
I saw a statistic the other day that 70% of us want to eat at home, but only 10% want to cook?!? Unfortunately (or maybe not), we haven’t quite advanced to living like The Jetson’s where we can just punch a few buttons and dinner appears for the family (No, calling Domino’s does not count!!!). There are lots of reasons for wanting to eat at home 1) saves money 2) saves calories, fat, sodium, sugar 3) saves time—unless you are getting drive-thru and eating in the car—but the actual time to drive to the restaurant, wait to be seated, wait to place order, wait for food to be brought to table, eat, wait for check, drive back—is more than the time it takes to prepare a meal. That is the whole premise/promise of Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and other meal delivery services. If you have the items for the meal at your house, you can prepare a meal for your family in less than 30 minutes.
The secret is having key ingredients ready to go in your pantry, freezer, refrigerator. So how do we (YOU) do this?
Let’s first look at some “styles” that you may recognize:
Family Favorites: Most people/families have about 7 favorite meals they fix over and over. These favorites may be from our childhoods, or something our spouse may have cooked for us or a recipe we discovered and enjoyed. We usually know these “by heart” and don’t need a recipe to fix them. The advantage is we like these menus, and we know these menus. The disadvantages may be they can become “boring” and if you grew up on “chicken fried everything” they are not likely the most healthy option.
Day of the Week: Another style is to follow a schedule like Meatless Monday or Wheatless Wednesday. If you are a history buff, you might enjoy the article on FineDiningLovers about how these two days came about (Meatless and Wheatless Days—100-year-old story). In the south, Red Beans and Rice became a staple on Mondays when the ham bone from Sunday’s Ham Dinner was used to flavor the beans as they cooked while attention was given to the family’s laundry. This style can be a great option with little kids—they know it is Macaroni Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc.
My style is more IMPROV—I enjoy cooking, but I honestly never know what we are going to have until the morning of or maybe the night before. We eat at home almost every night—we still enjoy meeting friends or special occasions out at local restaurants, but I can safely say that 90% of the time we are eating dinner at home. Quick Time Out for a Personal Story: My son shared with me after his first year away at college that the thing he missed most about being away from home, was smelling dinner cooking. Talk about melting his mama’s heart!
Okay, so how do I do it???
First, think simple. Your typical dinner is going to be a PROTEIN, a STARCH, and a VEGETABLE (hopefully green & leafy, but at least a vegetable). If you have tried any of the meal delivery programs this is exactly what they offer—the sauce or the preparation method is where you add variety!
Let’s further define these:
Protein: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Turkey, Fish (suggest 2x per week)
Starch: Rice, Pasta, Potatoes, Other Grains, and Corn
Vegetables: Fresh: Salads, Delicate Greens
Frozen: Green Beans, Peas, Broccoli/Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, etc.
There is a very informative article about frozen foods from Reader’s Digest: 10 Myths About Frozen Food You Need to Stop Believing
Second, have a well-stocked pantry, freezer, and refrigerator. In the freezer, you need a variety of proteins and frozen vegetables. In the pantry, you need your starches, canned beans, cream soups, and broths. And your refrigerator is for fresh veggies/ fruits and dairy.
We purchase meat at Costco two to three times a year—we have a chest freezer so we can do this. The key is to repackage into individual servings. I use my Food Saver to vacuum seal the meat to keep it fresh and prevent freezer burn. If you don’t have space, you may want to purchase more frequently. I buy bags of frozen veggies and once opened I will repackage in ziplocks. I like using frozen veggies because I can use only as much as I need (toss in a cup of peas to a pasta dish or toss a few on top of a salad).
In my pantry, I always have several types of pasta, several rices (brown, white, whole grain), as well as canned beans (lots of variety—pinto, kidney, black, small white beans), canned soups and broths for gravy/sauces, and canned tomatoes.
With my freezer stocked and my pantry stocked, I can “spin the dinner dial” and come up with a complete, nutritious, and delicious meal (without having to stop by the grocery store). I enjoy the grocery store, with all the beautiful produce and fresh baked items, but I know it takes time and can be expensive so I want to make sure I only go when NEEDED. When we need those fresh fruits, veggies, and dairy. Depending on the size of your family, you may have to shop more frequently, but wouldn’t it be great to know you don’t HAVE to stop and still can make dinner!!!
So what does dinner’s look like at my house?
Grilled Steak (Freezer) with Roasted Potatoes (Pantry) and Green Peas (Freezer)
Baked Fish (Freezer) with Broccoli Rice Casserole (Freezer, Pantry, Refrigerator) and Salad (Refrigerator)
Grilled Chicken (Freezer) over Bowtie Pasta (Pantry) with a mushroom Dijon sauce (Refrigerator) and Green Beans with Garlic (Freezer, Refrigerator)
Time-Saving Tips: Defrost and Grill a couple of different meats (Beef, Chicken, Pork). Season them differently and be sure to not OVERCOOK since you will be reheating. Put them in the refrigerator whole (cutting dries them out) and when you are ready to make dinner, you can slice, dice, and reheat quickly.
When you need a super fast fix: Purchase a Rotisserie Chicken. Use the breast for one meal and save the dark meat for another. One of our favorites is to make a Homemade Chicken Pot Pie. I use frozen mixed veggies, canned soup (chicken, celery, mushroom) and diced chicken pieces. Sauté some onions and celery to add flavor and top the whole mix with either a pie shell or rolled out crescent rolls (I try to keep one of these at all times in my refrigerator). It is so much better than any store-bought pot pie! It is comfort food and easy cleanup.
The KEY is having an inventory of these foods that you can pull from. I have a customizable food inventory tool that I use to know exactly what I have and what I need to buy. This “TOOL” can be customized for you and your families needs. You can purchase a copy of it from me for $19.95 or we can meet and review your current situation, customize the tool for your purchases, and then set up your spaces with food items you are going to use and are in date.
The full-service option is $99 (up to 2 hrs of time and the tool).
I hope this article has inspired you to find a way to cook at home more. I promise you will save money. You may lose some weight and eating out will become a “special treat” once again and not the fall back that it is now.