I’m always looking for something simple and quick to throw on the table for those days when I don’t have much time or energy to cook. Two mindset shifts have made my cooking life much easier:
1. Decide on what food groups I want to serve in each meal, and plug in foods that meet that requirement. Duh, but I used to think in terms of planning whole meals (quiche on Wednesday, pizza on Friday, etc.) and shopping specifically for those meal only. This is great — unless I’m too busy on Wednesday to make quiche, or I used up the eggs on Monday for an emergency lunch, or the eggs went bad because my meal plan got pushed back half a week. Now what?
Now I don’t shop for individual meals; I shop for a variety of individual components within food groups — nut butter, dairy products, eggs, frozen shredded chicken for protein options; cereal, breads, noodles, rice, farro for whole grain options; dried, frozen, and fresh fruits and veggies for produce options. When meal time rolls around, I mix and match those components to create a variety of meals. This allows me to get creative and use up random things in the pantry, while sticking with familiar recipes.
I’m also a moody eater: quiche might sound great a week ago when I planned it, but I might be feeling egged out when it comes up on the meal plan. Cooking a meal I don’t feel like eating is a bummer, but with this component-style meal planning, I can poll my mood and my family to see what kind of flavors we’d like for dinner.
I haven’t meal planned in over a year, but with this method, we almost always have healthy, varied meals.
2. Eat breakfast for dinner. Or snack for breakfast. Or lunch for snack. The point is, if I’m stumped on what to make for a particular time of day, I borrow inspiration from another mealtime. Run out of pre-made snacks? Scramble an egg, grill a cheese quesadilla, or serve a bowl of cereal. Running short on time for dinner? Make a sandwich, set out cheese and crackers, or throw together a fruit and granola parfait. No motivation to get out of bed and cook breakfast for your hungry kids? Raid the pantry for no-cook snacks: rice cakes with peanut butter, a granola bar with a handful of raisins and an applesauce squeeze, or apple slices with yogurt dip.
P.S. My picky or moody eaters often love breakfast and snack foods, and they’re often easier to modify than full meals without turning us parents into short order cooks.