Have you ever had this happen? It’s 5:00 p.m., work was stressful, stomach is rumbling because you’re hungry, kids are crabby and impatient and you think “What am I going to cook for dinner?”
First thought would be something fast, maybe the dollar menu at the fast food place, just grab it and go, just to get through. However, this may not be the healthiest option and could end up being quite costly. It also sends a clear message that this lack of planning ahead is okay.
This is where some menu planning basics can help pave the way to less stress, less anxiety over what to prepare and to eat healthier while not breaking the budget.
First off, take a look at your schedule this week. If there are commitments such as classes, after school appointments, loads of laundry and dishes or later than normal work obligations, plan on starting meal prep ahead of time. One of the most versatile small appliances is a slow cooker. Start it before you leave in the morning, when you get home a delicious smelling roast, potatoes and carrots is ready for you. Even better is if you purchased that roast on sale. Often I have seen ads for Copps and Pick and Save where if you purchase a roast on sale, you will receive a bag of potatoes, a pound of fresh carrots and some onions, all free. Watch the sales and buy accordingly. You can check out the weekly sales flyer and ads, find the closest store to you and also print out store coupons at http://www.copps.com.
Don’t like leftovers because it seems as though it is just a repeat? That is when you can work a little magic and change the taste and appearance. Imagine reworking the left over slow cooked roast into hot beef sandwiches for the next day just by shredding the meat and adding some gravy to moisten. This is preplanning at its best. Sale price, extra meals, no waste plus saves time.
Take a look at your pantry. It is a good thing to rotate food. So, if you have a couple cans of beans, some tomato sauce and some pasta, this could be fashioned into chili. Made in the evening, by the next day the flavors have had a chance to mingle and will taste great.
Consider mixing it up a bit. If mornings are a rush, pancakes for dinner will be a real treat. The same goes for an omelet. It is low cost, a good way to use up leftover bits of cheese and diced veggies, and delicious when eaten in the evening.
Designate certain days for certain foods. For example, pasta on Mondays could mean spaghetti, or cold tuna and macaroni salad for a picnic in summer. It could also mean homemade chicken noodle soup, lasagna or stuffed pasta shells. If you have leftover diced raw celery, add it to any of these dishes for a little extra flavor and zero waste.
Another designated day of the week could mean chicken. Roast chicken with potatoes, or cold chicken salad, or chicken with marinara sauce of warmed up leftover spaghetti from pasta night. Consider a rotisserie chicken that can be eaten as is, made into delicious sandwiches the next day, added to chicken broth and leftover vegetables to transform into soup, stew, chicken fajitas or tacos, the list goes on and on. This can really save on the food budget, just by planning ahead.
Growing your own fresh food is simple and tasty. For small spaces, containers filled with tomatoes, peppers, herbs and potatoes are ways to inspire cooking, and you can’t beat the freshness.
Stir fry is a fantastic, quick way to recycle leftovers. A left over piece of chicken can be sliced into strips then added to diced celery, some broccoli florets, and a couple of carrots sliced up. By planning ahead and checking your refrigerator for opportunities, this will save lots of time, money and frustration and will be much healthier for you than fast food.