My Meal Planning Approach: Stock Your Fridge with Staples

I’m an organized person, but when it comes to planning weekly meals, I’ve never had much luck. In theory, the concept sounds great. It just seems like a lot of work. I imagine I’d pick a bunch of recipes that rely on the same main ingredient, buy groceries and then map out when to make everything. I’m not sure when I’d have time to complete these steps and cook.

These days, I seem to be making a lot of impromptu meals. My family and I get hungry, and we figure out what we’ll eat on the spot. I might not plan these meals a week in advance, but they still manage to be healthy and well balanced. My secret? I stock my fridge with staples.

Every week, I try to find time to cook foods that will help us eat well all week. Then, when hunger strikes, I can easily whip something up and I rarely have to rely on frozen or packaged foods. I don’t have set menus in mind, but I always start by making a protein and vegetables. The key is to keep it simple. Roasting is one my favorite ways to cook; the oven does most of the work, and roasted food is always full of flavor.

Here are some staples you’ll find in my fridge:

Roasted chicken breasts: If you have roasted chicken in your fridge, the recipe ideas are endless. It can be served for dinner one night with a side of sweet potatoes and sauteed kale, and used for chicken salad sandwiches or chili another day. I rub olive oil, salt and pepper on bone-in breasts with the skin on and roast them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. I even like to reserve the juices that drip off for soups or stews (but I skim the fat first).

Hard-boiled eggs: A great on-the-go snack, they’re also good for egg salad sandwiches or for adding protein to a green salad.

Beans: There’s no doubt about it—dried beans taste better than canned. I like to keep a batch in my fridge that I can use to beef up salads, soups and stews, or to pulse quickly for a homemade dip.

Chopped fruit: I make smoothies a lot. My son loves to snack on fruit, so if I’m already chopping some for him, I cut up extra and save it for an afternoon smoothie.

Salad: When I’m really hungry, it’s easy to reach for cheese and bread. But if I have lettuce that’s been washed and dried in my fridge, I’ll be more likely to make a salad.

Roasted vegetables: Ever since my son started eating finger foods, I’ve been roasting sweet potatoes on a weekly basis. He snacks on them in his stroller and usually has a serving with dinner. My husband and I are also addicted now. I cut a bunch of sweet potatoes into cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until soft (about an hour). I keep the skins on to make them crispy. They pair perfectly with roasted chicken breasts or pork chops, and it’s easy to roast other vegetables at the same time.

Sauteed greens: I love eating spinach, kale or collard greens with roasted chicken, pork chops or a nice steak. I try to make a batch of greens early in the week that I can serve as a side dish for dinner or add to a frittata for breakfast or lunch.

Try this approach the next time you have a fridge full of food. It doesn’t take much preplanning. With just a few hours in the kitchen, you’ll have the main ingredients for many delicious meals.

Lia Wiedemann is a writer who loves food and her two little boys. She leads Brooklyn food tours for new moms, and shares favorite recipes and restaurants on her blog This Little Piglet.

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