A couple of years ago, I wrote about my annual tradition of taking stock of my family's dinner meals on our long drive back from Ohio over the holidays. I’m not someone who makes New Year’s Resolutions, but I do like the idea of thinking back over the least year and ahead to the future of what I’d like to do differently. During the 9 hour drive, in the past, I’ve taken the time to think through what meals we’ve been cooking and what meals or foods we’d like to have more or less of. The idea is to get us out of the rut of cooking the same 4-5 meals over an over again.
When we do this, we categorize our dinner meals into 4 categories:
- Go-to Meals – Meals that we typically have the ingredients for and can make without planning and get on the table quickly
- Make Ahead/Slow Cooker Meals – Meals we can make on the weekend to have during the week or put in the slow cooker on a weekday morning if we know there’s a busy evening
- Standard Meals – Meals that require some planning and cooking, but I usually keep meals to 30 – 40 minutes tops
- Special Occasion Meals – Meals that we like but we’d never make during the work week.
A Very Different Year
This year my assessing and planning, like so many things, looked a lot different. There was no trip to Ohio, so no long trip to think about and talk through the coming year. As I reflect now on the last year, it’s clear to me that meals and the stress around cooking was really different in 2020. There’s no evening commute and no afternoon kid’s activities. So, the dinnertime push, that stressful time between work and activities and getting food on the table, has nearly gone away - something I don’t miss and hope to preserve in some form after the pandemic is over. My family enjoyed cooking many new meals in 2020, adding some joy and excitement into our Groundhog Day-like weeks. We made brisket for the first time and even roasted oysters on our back porch. We are also ordering take-out more often than we used to. I don’t have judgement about this. We are supporting local restaurants and at the same time adding something new into our week. Our "go-to" meal list definitely expanded in 2020.
"Go-to" Meals - Key to Reducing Stress
Having “go-to” meals are essential to reduce stress and feel confident about getting dinner on the table. "Go-to" meals are meals that you usually have the ingredients for and are easy and quick to cook. So, if plans change or you know it’s a busy day, you can “go-to” one of these meals without stress and worry. Lately, tacos have been that for us. I keep ground beef in the freezer and bags of Penzey’s Taco Seasoning on hand. I know I can get tacos on the table quickly, with a bagged salad or fruit and the whole family is happy.
A New "Go-to" Meal
My favorite “go-to” meal that we added to our list last year, is a Garlic Shrimp with Feta dish. This is adapted from a recipe that was in Real Simple many years ago. I keep frozen shrimp in my freezer, jarred roasted red peppers in my pantry, and feta cheese in my fridge so I can put together this easy, crowd-pleaser anytime! It is excellent served with rice to soak up the garlicky broth and is wonderful the next day for lunch! I like adding fresh green beans to this dish that I buy trimmed and in a microwave-safe bag from the store. They cook for 3.5 minutes in the microwave and I add butter and dill to season.
Check out our meal planning template found at the top of our website when you subscribe to our mailing list and try making your meal lists. What are your "go-to" meals that you like to have on hand that make you feel confident in the kitchen? Share them with us in the comments or on our social media accounts!
Garlic Shrimp with Feta
- 2 12- ounce packages of frozen raw peeled and de-veined shrimp
- 2 12- ounce jar of roasted red peppers cut in 1" pieces
- 4 cloves of garlic sliced
- 4 Tbs olive oil
- 8 ounce of feta crumbled
- ½ t kosher salt
- ½ t pepper
- 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- 2. Defrost shrimp by running warm water over them in a colander.
- 3. Combine shrimp, red peppers, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
- 4. Put mixture in a 9 x 12 casserole dish.
- 5. Top with crumbled feta.
- 5. Bake ~20 minutes, until shrimp is pink and opaque.
- 6. Serve with rice.