One of the hardest things about meal planning is getting a good list of meals together so you are not bored and not overwhelmed with ingredients. Mr. Cereal and I cook almost all of our dinners at home (we rarely eat out), so a few years ago we started keeping a running list of our favorite meals. This evolved into seasonal lists because I personally don’t want to eat big hearty meals in the summer. What I’ve found that helps is a list of items that we try to keep on hand all the time. This makes my shopping significantly easier, and it means that I can often revise or throw a meal together last minute if needed. So I’ve put together a list of ingredients that I like to have on hand to help me create meals during the week.
1/ Pasta – In my case, I am gluten free so I buy two or three packages of gluten free pasta at a time. We don’t necessarily eat pasta all that often, but it is a lifesaver to have it on hand. I often find myself making a small batch of butter and parm noodles for the kids because it is quick and easy and I know they will eat it. A bonus is to keep frozen slices of chicken on hand. I love getting rotisserie chickens and taking them apart and freezing the meat for later uses.
2/ Pre-made pizza dough – We eat pizza at least once a week and it’s a great meal because it is relatively easy, the kids love it, and we can mix it up frequently. Most grocery stores carry fresh dough now, so even if I am not planning on having pizza that week, I will still pick one up. I can use the dough for bread sticks, pocket meals, cinnamon rolls, and so many other things. It’s a great, versatile, and cheap item to have on hand.
3/ Frozen fruits and vegetables – Even during summer I tend to stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables. I use a frozen steam-able bag of veggies for most meals. But I also use them in all kinds of other meals like pasta dishes, casseroles, tacos, etc. Having them on hand means that I am sneaking veggies into most meals. The fruits I love to use for smoothies, yogurt in the morning, or for baking. Plus, when I don’t have time to get to the store, I can use the fruits for dinner sides for the kids.
4/ Tortillas – This one may sound silly, but we seriously use tortillas in so many meals. The kids are obsessed with quesadillas, so those are a multiple days a week meal for lunches or dinners. But I also love using them for casseroles, to make homemade chips, to wrap sandwiches, and even to make desserts with (think cinnamon sugar and butter on a crispy tortilla). We actually buy bulk quantities of these and make sure to always have them on hand.
5/ Ground beef – Or pork, or chicken, or turkey. Ground meat is easy to use in a million ways. We have a really great market that does fresh ground meat, so I often stop by there to pick up a few pounds at a time. I will re-package and freeze most of it for other meals, and honestly it is awesome to have it on hand for the nights when I just want to make something easy. The best part about ground meat is that you can transform it in a bunch of different ways and with a few spices, you can easily change the flavor too.
6/ Brownies and cake mixes – Ok, this one is mostly because I LOVE brownies, but I usually like to have a couple of box mixes on hand. I really love baking, and I use box mixes for most of my baking. I often modify the mix with other things to make it better, but sometimes all I want is a simple box of brownies. The best part about this is that I try to make two batches at a time, then cut up and individually freeze portions so I can have a quick indulgence when I need one. Not even kidding, I almost always have brownies in my freezer. Cake mixes are awesome too because I can modify them to make all kinds of other baked goods.
7/ Rice – I always have to have rice on hand. I also keep polenta stocked as well because these are two really easy things to make as sides for a meal. I use rice relatively often and I either throw it in a crock pot and let it go, or I use minute rice on the stove top for a quick side. Polenta is also an awesome option. I use ground polenta to make great cheesy grits or to make a nice polenta cake that can be seared on both side. Rice and polenta are both really cheap and come in quantities that ensure use for many meals.
8/ Potatoes – I am in love with potatoes. They are my favorite food because I can do so much with them. I like to keep whole potatoes on hand (both russet and sweet) to use as sides, or even for a nice baked potato. I also have a box of instant mashed potatoes on hand at all times and I use this for sides, to top other dishes, or to use as a base for a potato dough. I love that potatoes can be transformed into a ton of different things, and they are filling and delicious. If you haven’t yet, explore what toasting slices of sweet potatoes does, you will be in heaven!
What are some of your go-to grocery items? Do you try to keep certain things in stock for your meals?