Dinner in our house is often an afterthought. Generally I have an idea of what I’m going to make, but I never know quite how it will come together and I often swap nights at the last minute. I make sure I have building blocks in my kitchen, but I don’t plan out what goes with what (usually) until maybe 4-5pm. Sometimes this is bad because I don’t have enough time to roast a potato, for example, but most nights it works out and I put together dinner quickly based on what I’m craving at the moment.
The Non Meal Plan
Most weeks I take inventory of my proteins (including things like beans and eggs and things in the freezer) in my head and buy vegetables that are in season to go with them. Then I mix and match when dinnertime comes around. Here’s an example of a week’s worth of dinners and lunch/breakfast staples without a plan”:
Building Block Basics
- 2-3 seasonal fruits
- 1 bunch bananas (with green tips!)
- 1 kind of greens (like kale, collards, etc.)
- 2-3 green vegetables for dinner sides
- 1 container salad mix or 1 bunch leafy lettuce
- Carrots and green pepper for salads (if we’re out)
- 1 kind of starchy veggie (like sweet potato or squash or corn in the summer)
- Mental check on bulk food stock (refill anything we completely used up)
- 1 meat (we already have salmon on hand this week)
- Eggs/milk/yogurt (if we are out of one or all)
- Mental check on pantry staples like tomato sauce or sardines (will venture into an aisle if I need it)
- 1 cheese for salads, 2 if planning to use some in a meal
- Occasional Splurges: tortilla chips, pre-made hummus/sauces, extra cheeses, more expensive fruits/veggies like berries, non-bean/grain bulk bin stuff like dried figs, fancy drinks like kombucha
On a good week, I write down foods I’m craving and LOOSELY put them into a meal plan. As you’ll see, we’ll probably flip flop most of the recipes to different days or use different ingredients or just cancel a meal altogether. But at least this plan is available if we wish. On a bad week, this list is just in my head!!
Examples of loose meal plan nights:
“The meal plan for tonight was: ‘Something from the garden, combined with eggs or sardines or beans and something grainy.’
Meal plan = ‘Roast things from the fridge”
If I have a lot to buy, specific recipes in mind or things I don’t want to forget, I make a list of groceries for ingredients, plus staples of yogurt, produce, cheese, milk, a meat or fish, a few canned things, etc. I usually plan a vegetable and a protein source for each night and fill the gaps with starches (toast, grain) and seasonings / garnishes like cheese.
STAPLES I can’t live without
- 2-3 other fruits
- Organic milk
- Local eggs
- Salad veggies like carrots, bell pepper, cucumber
- Lettuce / spinach of some kind
- 1-2 dinner veggies (like zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, sweet potato, green beans)
- Frozen berries
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- Cottage cheese
- ROLLED OATS
- Sardines/salmon in the pantry
- Beans in the pantry
- Whole grain pasta in the pantry
- Diced tomatoes in the pantry
Here’s an example of a week of groceries: Rainbow Over Yonder.
Our grocery bills ranges from $40 on a light week where we just need vegetables to $125 on a heavy week where our fridge and freezer are bare of everything.
Most are surprised that I keep my fridge pretty bare! I only buy what I need for the week and can usually make it stretch pretty well. A cluttered fridge drives me crazy! I like to be able to see everything inside at a glance. We often have a shelf for dairy + eggs, a shelf for leftovers and fruit, overflow and drinks o the bottom and veggies in the drawers. The doors are all condiments and sauces.
QUICK DINNER STAPLES
Here are things that are easy to keep on hand for quick dinners in order of importance
Vegetables = limitless, obviously. Try to have something green for every night of the week. Frozen veggies work well!
Proteins = beans, legumes, frozen fish (requires a day of advance planning), tinned fish, bacon, eggs, tofu <—many of these are easy to keep on hand verses buying “fresh” meat/fish
Grains = easy to keep in dry storage, and of course, bread!
Garnishes = cheese, nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, capers, pesto, sauces, and more. They give the meal flava!
EASY DINNER IDEAS
- Bean burgers made from canned beans, veg on side
- Salads with protein on top like eggs or fish, bread on side
- Omelets or frittatas
- Warm lentil salad
- Pizza (dough needs some prep in advance)
- Mexican bowl with beans + grain or chips, cheese yogurt
- Savory pancakes
- Anything sardines/tuna from a can
- Soups with leftovers/beans/grains/veggies mixed in
So as you’ll see, my meal planning is anything but formal. Just a loose plan to get some foods in the fridge and cravings down on paper. It takes a bit of flexibility to work this way, and perhaps when I have a child to feed (or if Matt didn’t eat a lot of his meals at the bakery) we’d need a more rigid meal plan. But I like to eat what I’m in the mood for, so having a flex plan works well for us.