I thought it would be fun to start a series of posts where I share with you my go-to foods that I try to have on hand at all times. Because having my kitchen stocked with these is literally the only way I get dinner on the table every night.
Let me explain: I am not very good at planning ahead when it comes to cooking. I used to be, before kids. I was actually that person that sat at her dining room table every Sunday with a stack of cookbooks and a notepad and wrote out every meal for every night of the week and then bought the appropriate ingredients the same day.
It was lovely and totally worked for me at the time but the reality is that my life looks a lot different now. Its ironic because having kids means you have less time for cooking when that’s exactly what we all need to be doing more of to feed our children: cooking.
And so my strategy has changed. Actually it has kind of reversed. Instead of choosing what I want to eat for dinner and then buying the ingredients, I buy the ingredients and then turn them into a simple dinner. I’ll admit, it took some getting used to, but it’s so much more manageable for me to just focus on one meal at a time now. I usually start thinking about it in the morning and by early afternoon have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be. And if I don’t have all of the exact ingredients needed for a recipe, I substitute or just omit. Again, these are usually simple dinners.
Here’s the one rule of this plan though: you have to know your go-to foods and keep them stocked as often as possible. For me, I break this down into five areas: fridge, freezer, pantry, countertop and, as explained in this post, produce basket. In future posts I will talk about each of these other areas of my kitchen; below is my list for the five types of produce that are sitting on my countertop at all times:
- Bananas: bananas used to stress me out because I hated wasting them when they got too old. Then I discovered that I can slice and freeze them to use in smoothies for future use. Brilliant! So I’m now happy to report that we never waste bananas anymore. Before they get to this point though, we use them for a quick breakfast when running late in the morning, a vehicle for eating peanut butter (our family’s favorite food), or as a topping on oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, whatever.
- Avocados: similar stress level as bananas since avocados definitely have like 48 hours when they are “prime” but I have also learned that if we aren’t ready to eat them when ripe, they are still good if kept in the fridge for a few days. We use these for guac, toast, or as a topping on any kind of soup, chili, or salad. I am a firm believer that everything is better with avocado.
- Lemons and Limes: I’m totally cheating here and combining two foods into one but I couldn’t choose just one! Lemons go in almost all of our smoothies and are what I use as a stand-in vinaigrette that goes with any kind of salad. We use limes for guac and to squeeze on our food to feel fancy, like tacos or chicken tortilla soup, both of which we eat a lot of in our house. Another perk of citrus: it looks so pretty sitting on the counter!
- Onions: I have a handful of soups and chilis that I can throw together with just a few basic ingredients and they all require onions. I try to keep yellow, white and red on hand as they are all good for different things. Also, I feel like adding sliced red onion to meals like chili or tacos is a simple way to elevate a dish.
- Garlic: garlic is such a universal flavor that goes with almost anything. Similar to onions, it can elevate otherwise simple dishes like polenta or roasted veggies. And I don’t even mind when my hands totally smell like garlic after using it; I actually kind of like it.
So there you have it: my big secret to how I get dinner made every night with minimal stress. I hope this was helpful for those of you that might be struggling with finding a cooking-strategy that works for you. Stay tuned for future posts on my go-to foods for the other areas of the kitchen. Happy cooking!