Planning Meals with the food you have on hand
Sometimes the meal ideas comes easily, sometimes it is a last-minute decision with hungry family underfoot. Planning meals out may be the ideal, but let’s face it–not all of us are consistent because we just get busy.
There is food to have on hand, though, that can make both menu planning and last minute meals much easier (and affordable)! Here are some things that I always keep on the pantry shelf, and a few meal ideas for each item:
Dried Grains & Legumes:
Planning meals with dried grains and/or legumes in the pantry becomes far easier; it is the most obvious winner on this list. Everyone understands the depth of flavor a handful of barley can add to the soup or how brown rice, quinoa, or wheat serve as the beginnings to a gourmet from-scratch meal. Check out this delicious recipe calling for lentils:
Quinoa is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner—depending how you choose to prepare it. Brown rice makes everything from a stir-fry (another last-minute meal) to the “meat” in a stuffed vegetable. Just the other night I had forgotten to thaw meat for dinner; garbanzo beans made some very tasty falafels for a meatless meal. Sure, legumes also take some forethought since you will have to soak them first. A good pressure cooker can cover a multitude of sins, though!
The flavors are intense and make great muffins, breads, and other baked goods in the dead-of-winter when your taste buds are hibernating. More than flavor, they allow you to maximize your food dollar by buying foods in season for year round use. You cannot underestimate their convenience, either! Late morning breakfast-on-the-go, a snack to keep in your bag for blood sugar emergencies, an oatmeal facelift—the possibilities are endless. Drop some dehydrated cherries in your homemade trailmix, sprinkle dehydrated strawberries over your cereal, or make your own “sweet and sour” candy by eating rhubarb or raspberries as they are!
I often have people tell me (this happened yesterday, in fact) that the dehydrator is in storage, that they used to utilize it more frequently than now if they even use it at all. This is by far the simplest food preservation method, and if you fall into this category, check out this Dehydrating Q & A to refine your dehydrating results so that you will again see the end product as a great asset to your pantry.
Pickled (Fermented) Foods:
Fermented Foods are easier to make at home than you might realize. You can skip the canner completely with a fermentation process that transforms them into a probiotic. They are a wonderful side dish for lunch and a casual match for get-together munchies. Most fermented foods (pickles, carrots, garlic, you name it!) bring color and flavor to your salad. They make a tasty side dish to round out the meal, too. They are the ultimate convenience food! Use pickled eggs, cucumbers, or carrots in your favorite egg salad, potato salad, or other cold salad recipes, saving you the prep time when you’re making it.
Have you ever flipped over the canned meat from the store and read the ingredients? You can create your own convenience foods for a fraction of the cost and twice the flavor—and canning meats at home is much better for the environment and your health, too.
A jar of canned ground beef makes a pot of chili in 15 minutes, tacos in the time it takes to chop tomatoes, or a filling pot of spaghetti on those nights you didn’t plan dinner. Canned chicken, fish, venison—the list goes on. Yes, there is an initial afternoon of food processing, but since you can in bulk you are maximizing your time. 2 hours translates into as many as 10 low-stress dinners! Even canned chicken noodle soup–without the noodles of course–is a fantastic shelf staple.
Here are 10 great meals that are a snap because you have canned ground beef on your shelf!
Dinners In a Jar:
I do not use these frequently but find them invaluable nonetheless.
I get over-busy, over-committed, and forgetfulness results. Although my life revolves around food with Pantry Paratus (I am often found discussing food production, preservation, and preparation on the phone with a customer), I sometimes forget about ours. It is like sunscreen—I’m the best at remembering to slather it on my children’s pasty whiteness but cannot seem to remember my own glow-in-the-dark self. And so, while I am discussing food with others or writing blogs about how to make salmon jerky, I often experience those “Ack—what’s for dinner?!” moments to which every other working mom in America succumbs.
I overcompensate by work-ahead meal preparations. The freezer is the best for this and is full of my calzones,and other make-ahead meals. Having some jars of pea & lentil soup (using dried spices and ingredients) or any of the other meals saves us from eating poorly due to lack of planning.
And on that note, I gotta go get dinner cookin’–