Each year on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, my family takes a 9 hour car trip home to North Carolina from Ohio through the mountains of West Virginia. While the kids are watching movies in the back of the minivan, my husband and I usually talk about the coming weeks, months and year. It’s a moment of calm after the months of busyness leading up to the holidays. We review our calendars, work plans, childcare arrangements and often our conversation turns to what we want to be doing differently or better. This always seems to include the topic of food and cooking, something we both value but have to work hard at doing well. This year, as we were rounding the curves of the mountains, Dan suggested that we make a list of all of the dinners we like to make, because we tend to get in a rut. We make the same 4-5 meals over and over again, and forget about certain meals we used to enjoy. We thought if we could keep our list handy, right inside our pantry, then we could refer to it when we are meal planning and grocery shopping. (Get our simple meal planning template at the top of our home page.)
So, we pulled out my little anchor journal I have in my work bag and found that we made a similar list 365 days ago. It’s beginning to be a tradition, this time of year, to feel like we could be doing better with meal planning, but we keep working at it and haven’t given up yet. The kids paused their movie, and we brainstormed all of the meals we like to make for dinner.
We divided the list into 4 categories:
- Go-to Meals - Meals that we typically have the ingredients for and can make without planning and 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.
In future posts, I’ll expand on each of these categories. To start, though, I think it’s important to have a list of “go-to meals” that we usually have the ingredients for and are easy to get on the table in 15-20 minutes. We are all so busy juggling work, activities, trying to keep the house clean, school and appointments. It’s easy to fall into black and white thinking about dinners. Sometimes it feels like there are 2 options -- either cook something with a recipe or we don’t have time, or haven’t planned, so we order takeout. There’s a lot of gray area between these two examples. Having a list of "go-to meals" can help you have an easy plan for busy nights, but also are great to turn to when your plan isn’t going to work for whatever reason. They are your Plan B. These aren’t gourmet meals, but meals that are nourishing and you can make at any moment and know you’ve put together a nourishing meal for you and/or your family.
This is our list of “Go To Meals:"
- Tacos (with fruit and bagged kale slaw or veggies and dip)
- Spaghetti and Frozen Meatballs (with a salad or broccoli)
- Spaghetti Carbonara (with fruit or a salad)
- TJs Mandarin Chicken (with broccoli and rice)
- Boxed or stovetop Mac and Cheese (with broccoli or fruit)
- Pizza - We keep premade pizza shells in the pantry (add a salad or fruit)
- Black Beans and Rice (add avocado if the stars align)
- Frozen eggplant parmigiana (with salad or veggies and dip and pasta)
- "Brinner" - toast or waffles, eggs and/or bacon/sausage, fruit
- Ravioli (kept in the freezer) (with fruit or salad)
- Quesadilla (with salsa and fruit)
- Tomato Soup and grilled cheese (apple slices)
- Nachos - We make ours with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, salsa, black beans, and leftover meat and avocado, if available
When I’m headed in the door at 5:30 pm with hungry kids and I’ve forgotten to put the food in the slow cooker, or I just don’t have the energy to make the meal that I planned, these are meals I can pull together quickly. I think it's helpful for anyone to have their list of "go-to meals" so that we know we have a backup. Just knowing we have a Plan B can be reassuring. What are your family’s "go-to meals?" Your list will be different than ours. Would it help to make a list so you know you have several nutritious meals to "go to" in a pinch?
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