Some people are fantastically efficient at meal planning. I, however, am not. Who knows what we’re going to be in the mood to eat next Thursday night? I don’t!
Since that method doesn’t work for me, the next best thing is to keep my kitchen stocked with the ingredients I use most often when I cook – my staple items. On nights when I’m tired, or uninspired, rather than succumbing to take-out, I can always whip up a quick, nutritious dinner with these go-to, gotta have ingredients – a great solution for our waist lines and our wallets!
I do most of my grocery shopping every weekend, replenishing my staples (usually the meat and produce), and buying whatever else I want for the week.
Here’s my list:
Fresh Produce: I love fresh fruit and veggies! When I shop, I’d say my cart is 70% fresh, and 30% everything else. I usually get a comment at the check-out counter about how healthy and colorful my cart is. The items on this list are the things I have to have in my kitchen. In addition to these, I usually buy whatever else looks good, is in season, or what Maddie is loving for a snack that week.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Whole carrots
- Red peppers
- Portabella mushrooms
- Italian parsley
Meat: If I could be a vegetarian, I probably would, but that just won’t fly in my house. I have managed to significantly reduce the amount of meat we eat in each meal. With that said, most meals, excluding the occasional Meatless Monday, do include meat. I really prefer to buy organic meat, especially chicken and beef. I usually buy in larger quantities, and keep back up in the freezer, and what I think we’ll use during the week in the fridge.
- Chicken breasts
- Chicken drumsticks
- Lean ground beef
- Ground turkey breast
- Mahi mahi
Freezer: A couple years ago, I decided one freezer wasn’t enough for me. I needed two. So we found a stand-up freezer on Craigslist that sits in our garage. This has been a great money-saver because we can buy in bulk, and keep the extra in the freezer. I also use it to store homemade freezer meals, mason jars full of homemade chicken broth, Stan’s frozen crap (pizza, burgers, popsicles, etc), and my freezer stash of breast milk. TMI?
- Frozen veggies: broccoli, green beans, peas, cauliflower, okra, butternut squash
- Frozen fruit: blueberries, strawberries, mango, bananas (I freeze our fresh bananas before they go bad – great for smoothies)
- Nuts: almonds and walnuts
Fridge: It takes some creativity, and what I remember from eighth grade geometry, to figure out how to cram everything in the fridge throughout the week. But I always make it happen. Usually by Friday, it has thinned out to mostly leftovers, and a little of this or that. And then the weekend rolls around, and we fill it up again!
- Almond milk
- Greek or Plain Whole Milk Yogurt
- Kerrygold butter
- Parmesan cheese
- Dijon mustard
- Jarred items: capers, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts
Pantry: They say that when you grocery shop, you should avoid the aisles, and stick to the perimeter… Well, this is all the aisle stuff. All things considering, I think it’s mostly pretty healthy. I really try to prepare the pantry items with as much fresh produce as possible. I also try to avoid the heavily processed food at all cost.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Red wine vinegar (I keep it in the fridge)
- Chicken broth
- Pasta: spaghetti, linguine, penne, elbows, fusilli, orzo
- Basmati Rice
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Dried Lentils
- Canned beans: kidney, black, garbanzo, pinto
- Canned tomatoes: diced, crushed, and paste
- Jarred tomato sauce (for when I really really really don’t feel like cooking)
- Whole wheat and all purpose unbleached flour (I keep it in the freezer)
- Sea Salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Garam masala
- Curry powder
- Vanilla extract
If you follow my blog and read my recipes, you will notice that most dinners consist of a combination of these ingredients. For instance, tonight we had one of my go-to, easy dinners: grilled chicken breasts, roasted sweet potatoes, and okra, spinach and tomatoes.
I made a marinade using olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, garlic powder, turmeric, cumin, and honey. I used some to marinate the chicken, which we grilled, and I poured the rest on quartered sweet potatoes, which we roasted at 400 degrees until cooked through.
For the veggie side, I put a bag of frozen okra in a small pot with a can of diced tomatoes, a handful of fresh spinach, about a half a cup of chicken broth, and a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar. I brought it to a boil, and then let it simmer while everything else finished cooking. It’s an easy side that can be ready in less than ten minutes. You can serve it over rice, with beans, shrimp, or chicken, and it can be a meal in itself! We all love it.
Everything I used tonight is on this list. And there are countless alternatives for meals that can be made with this list.
I’d love to hear from you! What are your staple ingredients?