Many people are so busy, they don’t have time to meal plan. When they leave work at 5 p.m., they start thinking about dinner and either go through the drive thru out of desperation or stop by the grocery store haphazardly putting food in their cart because they are hungry and don’t have a plan. Do this a few days a week, and you will watch your food bill increase dramatically.
Menu planning doesn’t have to be time consuming. In fact, you can choose a few staple meals that you can always rely on. Keep the ingredients in your pantry, and you will always be able to prepare a quick meal without the frantic rush that accompanies the after work hour. Consider some of these easy meals:
Homemade Pizza—I recently discovered that Trader Joe’s has both white and whole wheat pizza dough that is sold in a bag for a little more than one dollar. Leave it out on the counter for 20 minutes, roll it out, put on the toppings of your choice, and you have homemade pizza at a fraction of the take out price.
Chili—Chili is a staple in our household as it is such a great way to incorporate beans into our diet. Brown up a big batch of beef or turkey on the weekend and freeze in meal size portions. On the day you want to serve, simply put the browned ground beef, a can or two of beans, one diced green pepper and one or two cans of diced tomatoes in a slow cooker and stir together. Season liberally with chili powder, cumin and pepper, cook on low all day, and you will come home to a tasty meal.
Veggie Stir Fry—Cook up rice the night before you plan to make the stir fry and refrigerate it. (Alternatively, use rice from leftover Chinese take out.) Buy a bag or two of precut broccoli and carrots from the vegetable aisle, cut up some green onion, and stir fry the veggies in oil until tender. Set aside, and in the empty skillet, scramble eggs and the cold rice and the vegetables. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce.
Hamburgers—Who doesn’t love hamburgers? Rather than picking them up at a fast food chain and facing mystery fillers, why not make your own. For an added kick, mix onion flakes, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Grill on an outdoor or indoor grill (we prefer George Forman’s), and serve with a side salad and fries.
Chicken Salad—Buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, and use the meat to make a simple vegetable salad filled with tomato, cucumber, chicken and salad dressing.
Chicken Quesadilla—Use the same rotisserie chicken to fill a tortilla with cheese and mixed vegetables. Cook in a skillet until cheese is melted and the tortilla is lightly browned. Serve with salsa and guacamole and a side salad.
If you have a meal plan, you can save both time and money. There is no need to make elaborate meals; pick simple ones that your family enjoys and that are easy to prepare. If you have ten to twelve recipes that everyone enjoys, you can feed your family healthier foods than pick up or drive thru.
**Photo by xymox**