Dinner is supposed to be such a great part of our day, with our entire family around the table sharing the high and low moments from our days. Sometimes it is like that, with a meal in front of us that everyone will eat. Sometimes we’re tired, and crabby, no one is particularly interested in what’s being served, and we’re all just looking forward to retreating to our own corners after the table is cleared.
We’re all doing our best, and the reality is that some nights are just going to be like that. I like knowing that there are certain things that are within my control, and certain things that are not, like the moods of my tweens. There are few things that make me crankier than 5:00 rolling around and realizing that I have nothing planned for dinner, and nothing that I can easily throw together.
We published a couple of monthly meal plans and they were so well-received that you can look forward to additional monthly meal plans coming soon. In those plans I mentioned that I only really plan four meals for the week. I fill in the rest with leftovers, takeout, and simple pantry and freezer meals.
Of course, in order to be able to fill in the gaps, I need to keep a few staples on hand to ensure that there is (almost) always something to throw together to keep the hangry masses from descending. (When all else fails, there’s always pizza delivery or cereal.) I don’t mean meals that I’ve prepared ahead of time and frozen. While I always aspire to that level of preparedness, that’s not my reality.
Refrigerator Dinner Staples
- Milk or nut milk
- Cheese (feta, cheddar, whatever you’ll realistically use)
- Sour Cream – again this is based on family preference
- Veggies, but only those you’ll actually use throughout the week. We keep lots of frozen veggies on hand so that we always have something to steam and add to a meal
Freezer Dinner Staples
- Frozen Vegetables (Most of our meals feature a steam-in-a-bag vegetable of some sort)
- Frozen Bread (garlic bread, rolls, etc.)
- Orange Chicken (We love the Trader Joe’s variety, but the regular grocery store also carries a version that works well, too)
- Rice (frozen jasmine and brown rice are the true dinner heroes in our house)
- Frozen, cooked chicken (I noticed that Trader Joe’s started selling their Just Chicken in the freezer section, which is great for those nights you need a protein to toss on a salad or into a pasta)
- Meats of your choice (chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, frozen fish.)
Pantry Dinner Staples
- Dry Pasta
- Pasta Sauce
- Rice (I’m not at all opposed to a pre-made boxed rice mix)
- Boxed or canned soups
- Dry or canned beans (Cans are obviously the quicker route here – if you plan far enough ahead to be able to use dry beans, you don’t really need me.)
- Canned Diced Tomatoes
- Chicken Broth (or veggie, depending on your preference)
How to organize your pantry & freezer
Organized spaces are all the rage these days, and we’re definitely on that train. There’s something about a collection of clear bins and air-tight containers that fills our hearts with joy. It also helps you to see easily what you have on hand and what you need to stock up on.
Our Favorite Pantry Meals
Many of those items above speak for themselves. Cook the orange chicken and microwave a packet of rice and dinner is served. Likewise for lasagna or ravioli and garlic bread. If you’re looking for a little more inspiration, here are a few meals made entirely from pantry staples
Black Bean Soup – Easy, with lots of ways to jazz this up (spicy or not) leftovers can be frozen or would be great for lunch throughout the week.
Sesame Noodles – This will require a few other staples like soy sauce and rice vinegar, but we keep those on hand in our spice cabinet.
Vegetarian Pantry Chili – Most meatless meals don’t fly in our family, but they don’t miss the meat when we make chili.
Pantry Pasta – This can be as simple as a box of dry pasta and a jar of sauce. If you’re feeling fancy you can saute a little garlic in olive oil before adding the sauce. Add some frozen meatballs or pop some frozen garlic bread in the oven for a hearty, carby, crowd pleaser.
Know when to ask for help!
Keeping a well-stocked kitchen is just one step to making dinner prep easier. Wendy and I both subscribe to Home Chef and it is so nice to have all of the ingredients for a meal arrive on your doorstep! Even one or two meals a week makes a big difference!