Saturday, January 13, 2018

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - How I put together dinners

I was asked how I plan meals given our circumstances of two special diets, one small budget, and the cook with a chronic illness.  Well, it wasn't easy and it took a few years to get a meal plan that works most of the time.  Especially when I was only cooking for the two of us.

Although I don't go along with the cooking for two philosophy most of the time.  If I am cooking a dish that can be used as leftovers the next day, that is what I will do.  I can't see taking the time to cook something for just two people and one meal when in that same time period in the kitchen... I can cook for two meals.

I plan meals around the main protein each week, although with multiple planned leftovers it is actually more of an eight to ten day period.  This came about over time when I realized the way I purchased meat had a lot to do with the menu plan.  Especially when I had to start cooking with organic ground beef.

We eat seasonally and in the winter I depend on frozen vegetables to supplement the root veggies.  When I can get fresh veggies and fruit in season at a good price, then I go for fresh.  I buy meat at the beginning of the month and I do stock the freezer when I can.

In my menu plan, I also assume there will be times I am not feeling well enough to cook.  By having planned leftovers, it cuts down on the cheese/fruit/bread meals.  Not that they are bad, especially in season!  I could live on good cheese, good bread, and seasonal fruit. 

We purchase a few items that my husband can easily warm up on nights I'm not feeling well and we have no leftovers.  He likes Amy's Soups for this purpose.  I don't use a lot of processed foods but I do usually have a few boxes of Annie's organic mac and cheese for last minute meals.

So a typical cold weather menu for seven to ten days is this:

A whole chicken:
I roast the chicken and the planned leftover is chicken soup of various kinds.  We have roasted chicken and then chicken soup all year.

Ground beef:
In cold weather it is often chili with planned leftovers or a casserole with planned leftovers.  In hotter weather it may be goulash with planned leftovers.

Usually frozen tilapia so I can defrost just what I will use that evening, sometimes salmon patties.  No planned leftovers.

Breakfast for Dinner:
I often make a vegetarian crustless quiche that I serve with Aldi Mild Organic Salsa on the side.  When I have MSG free sausage defrosted, I make sausage, eggs, and potatoes fried with onions and peppers.  Once in awhile (it is definitely a rather unhealthy treat), I make sausage gravy over biscuits.  I actually like biscuits from the pop up tin, that is what my mom made so it is what I was used to eating.

2nd Chicken or Beef:
I look for either deboned or split chicken breasts on shopping day and purchase what is the best price.  Sometimes I will buy chicken thighs on sale for a specific recipe although they are not my husband's favorite.  They are cooked in various ways and usually with planned leftovers.

If chuck roast is on sale, I may buy it so I can make oven stew (which lasts two meals at least) or veggie beef soup.  Especially if I have tucked a package of beef bones in the freezer and do not get me started at how ridiculously expensive beef bones are these days!

Having planned leftovers helps the budget and my energy.  For instance, at the beginning of the month, I usually buy only four packages of organic ground beef at Aldi so the price makes it necessary to stretch each pound of beef.

For instance, I serve chili the first day with shredded cheese and corn chips (sour cream added for me) and sometimes I freeze some of the chili to use at another time since it freezes well.  I leave enough overnight so the next day I can serve baked potatoes with chili on top (one of my husband's favorite meals).

As you know, I love cookbooks and when I feel well enough, I love to spend time in the kitchen.  So I have recipes marked in favorite cookbooks to make when I have the energy.  That is when having items in the pantry (freezer included) helps to make an unplanned meal.

I hope that helps.  It is not set in stone but it does work, especially in cold weather.  For instance, last week I made chili with the ground beef and this week I am making Holiday Spaghetti (a favorite casserole that has planned leftovers).  I may go back to chili the following week. 

If I didn't have some kind of plan, fixing dinners would be very frustrating... and eating out is usually not an option.

Image: Vintage - Actress Mary Deegan making dinner for her children.


rebecca said...

Interesting that you mention chili! Since I think ground beef and chuck roast are expensive, I bought a piece of pork that was at least $1 cheaper. We ground about a pound of it, browned it, and I used that in my chili. It was really good! The 1st leftover included some spaghetti added to it. The 3rd leftover was served on Italian bread and broiled with some additional cheese on top. It went a L-O-N-G way for the three of us (Dad, hubby and me).

Out My window said...

You are doing great, these are all good ideas.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! It's very helpful. I put on a big pot of beef vegetable soup this morning after buying a chuck roast this week! Thanks again, Brenda!

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

Cooking enough for leftovers saves money on whatever fuel you are using, too....As does baking more than one thing in the oven when you are heating it up anyway. This is very similar to the way I cook.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the suggestions. Since we have some dietary issues in our family (diabetes and severe allergies) I appreciate any helpful tips for menus.

Sometimes I'll cook what one person likes and the other can't have and freeze individual portions just to keep some variety.

Vee said...

Reading your menu choices is making me hungry. I’m intrigued so will wander over to the recipe file to see if some of them are listed. I only have one idea for leftovers and that’s tossing leftover meatloaf into spaghetti sauce...yummo. Quite frankly, I eat way too many Cheerios suppers. 😶

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

We love to have leftovers! It makes meals easy. We don’t always have a lot leftover, depends on how many where home for dinner!

Your plan sounds good and the best thing is that it works for you!

Anonymous said...

What a good plan you have for your meals! I, too, struggle with health issues, leaving my daughter doing almost all of the cooking. We have set meals each week. There are a few changes from week to week. But, for the most part, it's the same ones each week. I, like you, look for items on sale and use those. Leftovers are wonderful for those who need extra help getting meals on the table. Plus, we make many of our own "seasoning packets and sauce mixes"...Keeping down on MSG and loads of excess sodium. One of our favorites is homemade sloppy joe sauce. Easy and quite delicious! Willful Homing hugs ~ Donna E. =)