Open thread: Nutrition IQ and pantry basics

Being Mrs. Q has changed my life. I’m smarter about nutrition and I’m doing more “from scratch” cooking. My husband can’t cook and as such I am the only one responsible for putting a meal on the table. I’ve always done my best, but doing the blog has forced me to challenge myself.

I love that you, my readers, have helped raise my nutrition IQ.

We have discussed the contents of my crisper and the mystery of Fluff. I’m wondering what ingredients you keep close at hand in your cupboards. Do you meal plan? How many standard meals do you have by week? How do you grocery shop? What pantry basics are vital? Please further enlighten me.

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42 thoughts on “Open thread: Nutrition IQ and pantry basics

  1. I used to meal plan and it helped tremendously. Then my husband's schedule changed and I got all flustered and dropped it. I really need to get back to it. I spent less, had fewer last minute trips to the store and it just all around made life easier.

    I try and shop once a week. That works when I'm meal planning but when I'm off the wagon (like this week) I end up running to the store every other day, lol!

    Pantry basics – brown rice, frozen veggies and olive oil. I cook low sodium, vegetarian dinners. As long as I have those three things in the house, I can make *something*.

  2. I do not plan meals, it's too boring… and I know that it to much waste, but some times I just dont think…

    sorry for my bad english

    kiss from north east italy (p.s. I don't like our PM :(()

  3. I plan dinner everyday at the beginning of the week (Sat-Sun, as we go to the farmer's market every saturday morning). Dinners are written on a big monthly white board so everyone knows what's up. It is the same board we write everyone's activities so I know how much to prepare each night. Lunches we don't plan, but I keep lots of vegetables and deli meats in the house as well as plenty of fruit (a bushel of peaches right now). Must lunches are leftovers these days.

    At the grocery store I only shop the outside of the store as that is where I can get dairy, eggs, produce, meat, etc. Every 3-4 weeks we plan a trip out of town to a Trader Joes, the co-op, or organic market to get specialty items for the coming months (mostly specialty meats like bison, which we eat a lot of, turkey, oxtail, game birds, ostrich, etc.) and a lot of bulk herbs and grains (I mostly get these online though). I have a deep freeze that I rotate meat and vegetables through. When I grocery shop I take my canvas bags, of course, but I found these green mesh produce bags at the dollar store that I use for all the vegetables. Saves me from having to use those plastic bags that allow fruit and vegetables to rot in your crisper.

    Pantry staples for me: canned beans, canned tomato products, extra condiments (always run out of these when company comes over), all my jellies and jams, the canned vegetables from the garden, tuna, sardines, peanut butter, a full compliments of herbs and spices, baking goods (like condensed or evaporated milk), canned pumpkin, cream soups, broths, dried fruit, a whole cupboard of nuts, pasta, and oatmeal. Those are what I ALWAYS have so making an impromptu dinner is quite easy.

    Also a note. ANYONE can cook. Allowing your husband to not cook because he "can't" is hurting everyone. You are forced to do ALL the cooking, and he isn't bettering himself by learning. My husband was a terrible cook, could never get the timing right, but I forced myself to let him burn and overcook meat, undercook pasta, over salt sauce, etc. We all ate it with him and he learned from it. Now when I say I'm tired, he cooks up a fabulous dinner for me and the household. Its awesome, but you have to sit through some pretty awful meals to get there.

  4. I always have baking supplies in my house (flour, sugar, baking powder etc) because I have a serious love of baked goods but of course anything store bought is full of all kinds of things like HFCS etc that I can avoid at home.

    I also meal plan. Every week I write down whats for dinners for the week and then write my grocery list based off that. I didn't do that before I had my kids and was at the store 20 times a week. Now with the kids I can't physically get to the store that often and found that I had to start planning and writing lists. I also can't buy a lot of the things I grew up eating (hamburger helper etc) because I have an MSG sensitivity so that too has forced me to really read labels.

  5. I do everything in two stages: on Friday I choose what will be in our produce box the following Wednesday, and do some menu planning based on that; on Sunday I clip coupons and see what's on sale at my main grocery store and fill in based on that. I usually plan dinners, and then only partly plan lunches–that's when I often use up leftovers.
    I try to keep some things on hand at all times.
    Pantry: brown rice, pasta, oats, flour, tomato sauce, tuna/salmon, peanut butter, herbs, spices, condiments, oils, etc.
    Freezer: an extra loaf of good bread, homemade waffles or pancakes, peas, strawberries.
    Fridge: cheese, fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, filtered tap water (I've converted my husband from Kool-Aid!), lemon juice, condiments.

  6. We do reverse menu planning, the phrase for which I just learned. Basically, each week I look in the freezer/pantry at what's available and needs to be used up and make a menu based on that. Because I'm going back to school this fall (starting Monday!!!), we are cooking big main courses Fri, Sat, & Sun and enjoying the leftovers on Mon, Tues, Wed. Sometimes the leftovers just have new sides and sometimes they become completely different meals. Thursdays we have something fun like breakfast for dinner or we make something that doesn't really make good leftovers (seafood). There are several dishes my family loves to eat and I try to incorporate those at least every other month (meatloaf, pizza, tacos/burritos, schnitzle, goulash, homemade soup). Sundays I bake — rolls to go with dinner or maybe bread, and usually a treat item like muffins or a quick bread for our snack that week; Sunday is a longer day in the kitchen, probably about 4-5 hours altogether, but it's worth it to know where the food is coming from, that it's homemade and not full of stuff I don't want us to eat.

    I normally shop once a week on my way home from work, on one of my shorter days. The pantry (baking supplies, canned goods, beans, rice, crackers) and freezer (fruit, veg, meat) stay pretty well stocked. Our canned foods are tomatoes and a good stock of fruit & veg that is mostly for emergencies. I buy fresh fruit/veg, dairy, and some sale meat every week along with any items the pantry is short on or if it's needed to complete the meal plan for the week. I buy organic as much as I can, but mostly we compromise and I keep us away from HFCS about 90% of the time, so I'm pleased with our results so far.

  7. I absolutely meal plan. My budget is about $150 for 10 people, and my son can't have food colors so I have to plan or it just won't work.

    We snack on fruit, and fresh produce is easily our biggest expense, $25-40 per week, after meat (I buy hormone/antibiotic free meat and that adds up quick!)

    I have a meal planning "trick" – I have an index card box that I keep all my coupons in, and in the back of the box I have cards listed by meat with a list of meals my family likes made from that cut. For example, "ground beef" has taco salad, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc. listed. Pork has pan fried pork chops, sweet n sour pork, pork fried rice, cuban pork and black beans, etc.

    So when I'm at the store and see a great deal on meat, I can stock up AND I have a list of meals so I can grab any extra ingredients I need (like those black beans or pineapple or whatever.) It's also great inspiration when I just don't know what to make.

    When I was first starting out and learning to meal plan, I bought the book Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. She's a nutritionist who wrote a cookbook with a year's worth of meals, divided seasonally. All meals come together in half an hour or so, and she makes your list for you!

    So the list, the menu, the recipes, and the side dishes are all right there, for every week of the year. I highly recommend it!

    Things I always have on hand in the pantry:
    rice, beans, pasta, jarred pasta sauce, tomato paste, onions, oil, vinegars (red wine, apple cider, balsamic), bread, oatmeal, spices (used often: salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, onion powder, chili powder), and sugar.

    Things always on hand in the fridge/freezer: frozen veg, milk, eggs, bacon or bacon fat (I save the drippings in a jar), fruit.

    If you have onions, you can make any kind of meat taste decent, or make a ragout (chunky sauce) for over rice or noodles. If you have pasta and tomato sauce, you won't need to order pizza ever again. And you can serve most anything over rice. If you have oil and vinegar you can make a tasty pasta salad from pasta and frozen veggies, even if you forgot to thaw the meat. Balsamic vinegar makes lentils actually taste good.

    I have 40 weeks of menus for $1.60 per person, per day including my grocery list and pictures of my receipts.

  8. Menu planning does save time and money, but I am not obsessive about it. I plan one week at a time, for 5 or 6 meals, leaving 1 or 2 days open for eating out or eating at family or friends homes. If plans fall through, I always have stables in the pantry to make a quick meal. I totally agree that your husband should start cooking!! I spoiled mine for 15 years, I am an excellent cook! lol! When I went back to school he had to start and he did fine. Now I do 80% of the cooking, but what a luxury it is when he cooks and I come home to a meal fully prepared! Suggestion…have him start with the crock pot, you really can't screw up a meal in the slow cooker! He can prepare the meal in the am before work, or the am on weekends for starters-you know-so he'll be supervised:) There is a great blog called A Year of Crockpotting, some great recipes. You can also make things from scratch so easily in the crock pot, broths, soups, stews, very economical as well as green being that it uses much less electricity than the oven.

  9. I plan my weekly menu around our CSA veggie box and shop once a week. It saves me time and money and keeps me from defaulting to junk food because of poor planning.

    My pantry always has olive oil,a few good vinegars, basic baking supplies, beans and grains, chicken broth, pasta and canned soups.

  10. Pantry staples:
    Green curry paste
    Coconut milk
    Sliced bamboo
    Crushed tomatoes
    Canned tomato sauce (plain)
    Pink beans
    Hot sauce
    Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
    Dried herbs & spices – tons of them

    Fridge staples
    Half & half
    Parmesan cheese
    Lemon juice
    Jar tomato sauce (fra diavolo or vodka sauce)

    Freezer staples:
    Chicken stock (homemade)
    Veal stock (homemade)
    As many chicken bones as I can collect (my supermarket sells them $1/lb) to eventually make more stock

    My go-to meals are Thai green curry (learned from my aunt, and stupidly easy and quick to make), rice and beans, and chili all of which only require me to pick up meat and a couple extra vegetables (zucchini, jalapeno peppers, red peppers, onion, etc. that would spoil quickly otherwise.) The staples I have allow me a lot of latitude in how creative and varied I can get just by adding fresh meats & vegetables. I'm very lucky in that I live in walking distance of three supermarkets and biking distance of two more, so I freely submit that my setup is unusual, but then again I could just as easily buy a pallet of chicken thighs or whatever and have in them in the freezer also (except that I have no room, with all the chicken bones!). I also have no children so my meal planning is ad hoc at best. My downfall is that I tend to "plan" my meals while I'm at the supermarket on the way home from work (and therefore hungry!), which all to often leads me directly to the "hot bar" section of Whole Foods, where I proceed to dump my entire paycheck on their turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes that I'm pretty convinced they make with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, its just that good.

    Now that the weather is turning again to thoughts of hot dinners, I'll be dusting off the crockpot and doing more stews. My crock pot and rice cooker are the best combined $60 I've ever spent.

    At the very least, always having pasta, bacon, eggs, and a little parmesan in the house guarantees that you can always whip up a pasta carbonara in about 15 minutes since that's all that goes into it…

  11. Everyone has such great meal planning suggestions, that I'm going to address the Nutrition IQ part of your post. Since it seems like this blog is pushing you in a new direction, I would encourage you to take a Basic Nutrition class at your local community college or even from an online university. The internet (and the people on it) can be a wonderful source of information, but it can also be a source of misinformation. Nutrition information should be based off of a long historical analysis of scientifically accurate studies, and this is not always what you find on the internet. Having a background in the basics of nutrition can help you sort the helpful information from the quackery. Just what you need, right? One more thing to do! 🙂

  12. i keep dried beans and pulses in my cupboard. I just need to soak the beans over night and then the next day have healthy beans that can be baked, added to a salad or added to a caserole.

  13. This is such a good topic! Kudos!

    I think like Kitchen Girl, there are different staples for different places in the house.

    In the fridge I like to keep (not necessarily in order of importance) soy sauce, wine vinegar, lemon juice and/or lime juice, this great chicken bouillon paste I like, hot sauce, dijon mustard, olives, maple syrup-I am not sure why I keep this refridgerated.

    In the pantry I like to keep: a variety of flours from pastry to corn flour to whole wheat bread flour, all your baking needs-soda, powder, vanilla, etc, olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil (we ditched soybean and canola oil because the are virtually ALL GMOs), dried pasta, a couple cans of beans chickpeas and cannelini beans or whatever, a full spice cabinet (and I mean full), salt, whole black pepper for the mill, oatmeal, yeast, peanut butter, several kinds of nuts almond, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, honey, dried fruits.

    In the freezer I keep frozen corn and peas, breadcrumbs, whatever meat I bought from the CSA last month, portioned out leftovers like homemade spaghetti sauce or homemade chili, pesto left over from CSA basil, I will also stock up on fruit during the season, now in my freezer I have blueberries and sour cherries which are perfecting for cooling down a hot bowl of oatmeal when you have a screaming hungry toddler and the half frozen fruit is great in yogurt during the winter when you can't find good fresh.

    Things I buy fresh every week: milk & cream, yogurt, eggs, carrots, broccoli, onions, garlic, avacados, meat we buy every month from our CSA, various cheeses, salami, breads, etc.

    And then on top of that it varies by season with the rest of our veggies and fruits. I stopped buying strawberries in the winter and all that. The kids do eat so much fruit that I have to get more from the grocery store during the winter. We can discuss the localness of our diets, but I am not going to switch my kids over to apples only and meat and potatoes for our 5 months of super cold New England winter. I would rather eat some out of state (or country) fruit around then. But I still like to look for what is closest and what tastes best. Oranges anyone?

    We must all learn to cook to stay healthy. Our country's food industry has demonstrated that they are out for your money not for your health's best interest. We must all as a nation eat more veg and more fruit and less salt, sugar and flour. Notice I didn't mention anything about fat?? LOL!-I love healthy fat.

    I am constantly amazed by how many people tell me 'I don't cook'. Eat at home and eat better!!!

  14. We eat a lot of fruit – mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, melon. Greek yogurt is another favorite snack.

    I eat salads almost everyday for lunch with a wide variety of things from avacado and garbonzo beans, berries, tomato and other veggies even grilled fish.

    Dinner is typically made by my husband and we eat a lot of ground turkey, chicken and fish with the occaisional pork chop or steak. We both look up recipes on the internet for ideas.

  15. My grocery trips depend a lot on the sales. Basics: whole grain HFCS-free bread, cheese, crushed tomatoes, black beans, rice, a leafy green, a fruit, garlic, onion, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, butter, eggs, oatmeal. From there I'll add fresh green onions or cilantro, bell peppers, potatoes, and grapes if they're on sale, tofu, etc. Nom, vitamins.

  16. Compulsive Mom here:
    Once a week we make a menu. Each child chooses a dinner (and has done this since age 3) husband and I each choose two. We have a list of menu ideas we've compiled that has about 100 ideas by now! I make the grocery list from this and only go shop once a week. I go to the local outdoor market first and then to the store to fill in what wasn't available at the market. We bought 1/4 cow last year for the first time and are trying to decrease the quantity and improve the quality of our meat consumption. We made a family pledge to eat vegetarian 2-3 days a week. My kids have never been given "kid foods" and after several years have become amazing eaters and will try almost any food presented to them. That said, I am too lazy/tired to make lunches for school more than twice a week. We're working on changing that too.

  17. I am a bit of a computer geek so I have 2 excel files I have created for menu planning and shopping. The menu one has space for the main dish, sides, veggies, fruit, and notes (sports, meeting …) so I am less likely to get lazy and not plan complete meals. The grocery lists have any columns for the stores I am most likely to go to (Costco, grocery, Wal-Mart) and staples already listed so anyone who notices that we need something can mark it. When the store coupons arrive on Tuesday I plan for the week and adjust the shopping lists to reduce the number of stores I need to go to.

    As another commenter mentioned I also have my kids each plan one meal for the week. They are responsible for looking through the ads, choosing all the components, figuring out what we need to add to the shopping list, and helping to prepare it.

  18. like everyone else, it seems, i plan a menu every week for my dinner. i shop on saturday, then cook & bake saturday or sunday. each week i make a dessert and a main dish and 1 side, or 2 side dishes instead of the main dish.
    i work second shift, so i eat lunch at home and dinner at my desk. each day for work i pack whatever i've prepared on the weekends, as well as salad, fruit and snacks (such as granola bars) and my water bottle.

    my menu is usually based on what's in season, what's on sale, what i'm in the mood for, what i have at home i have to use up, and what recipes i want to try out. i don't have kids or a husband to cook for–though i often share my desserts with my boyfriend and coworkers–so i regularly experiment with new recipes.

    as far as staples, other than baking supplies and seasonings, i typically have olive oil, pasta, a can of chickpeas, and some veggie burgers on hand for quick meals.

  19. hi mrs q,
    not here to answer your questions today, but to challenge your husband's notion that he can't cook. if he doesn't LIKE to, that's one thing, but don't let him buy into the message we've had drilled into our heads in the name of pre-packaged food purchasing– that cooking is just too hard. it isn't, and there's help. mark bittman, for example, does a 'minimalist' column with some very simple recipes – that can be followed on youtube. it's food preparation, not rocket science, and if my husband can learn to not only do but also like it, then i'm sure yours can too. unless of course he doesn't WANT to, in which case there's no way for me to butt in 🙂

  20. My husband and I always meal plan. It saves us from impulse buying at the grocery store, plus we are on a tight food budget so we are able to stick to that. On another note, it's not that big of a deal if only one person in the household cooks. My husband does pretty much all the cooking in our house. He does it because he likes it and because it's the way our schedule works out most of the time. Honestly, I don't like cooking so it works out. Some pantry staples are: brown rice, organic tomato sauce, pasta, potatoes, frozen veggies, panko crumbs, and olive oil

  21. Sometimes it feels like a burden to meal plan even though it's real easy. I'm going to re-start doing it this Fall. Having stock recipes is necessary.

    @Doris – I really would love if he learned. I'm going to challenge him to learn how to make one meal. It would take the pressure off in a big way! Thanks for thinking of Mr. Q!

    Oh yeah, I only started meal planning when my "baby" turned one and I realized I had to up my game. It's really straight forward.

  22. Hi there…

    First I echo Joanie and Doris questioning that your husband can't cook. My husband was never taught to cook, but we've been working on it. He used to say he couldn't cook, now he says he's learning to cook. We're having a major schedule change in our lives come September, so some of the evening meal preparation is going to fall on him, whether we like it or not!

    Start him off with the basics – scramble an egg, make a grilled cheese sandwich, cook some pasta sauce. My husband made me a delicious dinner of baked pasta with homemade sauce a while ago and he was surprised at how easy (although time consuming) it is. We have two great cookbooks – one is called Gentlemen Start Your Ovens and it uses simple terms, not necessarily "proper" cooking terms, so that someone who is new to cooking understands things like saute and braise and other words like that. We also have Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

    My dad came from a home where he wasn't really taught to cook, but he and my mom shared the cooking when we were growing up (definitely not 50-50, but shared for sure) and now one of his favourite things to do is bake bread!

    Everyone can cook – people who say they can't cook either have never been taught or won't cook (or learn to cook)

    To answer your questions:

    We totally meal plan. It has cut our grocery bill by about 1/3 I think!

    I do a big shop usually on Sunday night once our toddler is in bed. I plan the menu over the weekend based on the next week's schedules and what's on sale at the two large grocery stores (the weekly flyers come out on Sunday). I usually end up shopping at both – they are close together so it's not that much of an inconvenience, especially if it means I save $20 or more.

    We have a binder in our kitchen with all kinds of useful information in it including the menu. Behind the menu are page protectors to hold the recipes for the week's food – I had to write down recipes that I keep in my head because I'm not going to be the sole dinner chef any longer.

    Each evening after dinner, I re-evalute the menu – and adjust for more or less leftovers than I had expected. If there is more, sometimes I change the menu – lunch or dinner later in the week – or I freeze the leftovers for some other time. I have a running list of what's in the freezer and every time something comes out, it gets crossed off. It's good way to keep track of meals and the produce we've frozen over the summer.

    During the week I usually pick up fresh produce mid-week and anything perishable for a specific meal if it wasn't available/wouldn't still be fresh if I bought it on Sunday.

    We also try to do as much prep as we can the night before – sometimes the whole meal, sometimes just marinating the meat or chopping the vegetables – it depends on what the meal is. I do this when I make lunches after our toddler is asleep.

    Our staples include five or six meals in the freezer for those nights when a fresh dinner just isn't going to happen, a few jars of prepared pasta sauce (soy and corn-free), dried pasta and rice, eggs, milk, butter, flour, sugar, dried fruit, tins of beans, a loaf of bread in the freezer (we don't eat much bread at our house), peanut butter, jam, some tins of prepared soup for crazy nights (I usually make my own), lentils, quinoa, oatmeal, couscous, and a few packages of frozen vegetables.

  23. I usually make out a menu for 2 weeks to a month before I go grocery shopping. I make my grocery list out of what I am making plus I try to have a quick dinner alternative in case something happens and I can't make what I planned on. I find when I do this we tend to eat better and I buy less junk food.
    I do try to make sure I don't buy all the fresh produce at once or it goes bad so we usually have a trip for milk and produce once or twice between the main trips.

  24. meal planning has saved my life and my bank account lol. i write up a menu for one weeks worth of meals (which usually ends up lasting us two weeks, what with leftovers and nights where hubbs and i are both out and about) and write up my grocery list based on that menu. then i just add any toiletries and snacky items we may need or want.

  25. Things I always have on hand
    Variety of spices
    Penne or Bowtie Pasta
    Coconut Milk
    Curry Paste- both green and red
    Cooking Wine
    Lime and Lemon Juice
    Olive Oil
    Vegetable Oil
    Canned Tomatoes
    Tomato Paste
    Chicken Broth/ Better than Bouillon
    Canned pasta sauce for quick meals
    Soy Sauce
    Teriaki Sauce
    Frozen or fresh chicken breasts
    Shredded Cheese
    Feta or Blue Cheese
    Frozen stir fry vegetables
    Flour and other baking items

    I usually plan meals for a week at a time, but I'm notorious for having a full pantry with lots of ingredients that are not needed for this weeks' planned meals on hand in case I change plans last minute.

    Infuriatingly, our landlord didn't pay the gas bill for our apartment building this month and I haven't had a working stove for almost a week- and I had to move food for last week's planned meals into the freezer and I bought microwave meals for next week in case the gas is still off.

  26. I do my grocery shopping every 2 weeks. Most of the time I plan dinners before shopping. It sure make life easier(and helps with the budget), but it does take time to plan. I make as much from scratch as possible. For breads and snacks I always have baking supplies, dried fruits, honey, oatmeal, nuts, chocolate chips, popcorn kernels, olive oil. For other meals, my pantry always has rice (brown and white), wheat pastas, couscous, dried beans and lentils, broth, diced/crushed tomatoes, peanut butter, potatoes, onions. In the freezer I always have frozen fruits and veggies, wheat germ, coconut. In the fridge I always have cheeses, eggs, butter, milk, lemons, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, soy sauce, fruit, jams. A book with good cooking from scratch recipes (if I am remembering correctly) is "How To Feed Your Family For $75 A Week" By: Cynthia Mayne, Alisa Mayne

  27. I meal plan religiously to keep us on budget and to keep us from constantly eating out because it's getting late & everyone is hungry. We are members of a CSA so it's actually a little harder to plan because we don't exactly know what we'll be getting week to week. Our delivery is mid-week through Oct so I have to plan & shop mid-week also (in the winter I do it on the weekend). I usually only plan 6 meals because we plan on having a meal out (restaurant or grandparents) or leftovers at least once. I plan at least one meatless meal as well as breakfasts (my kids don't really eat cold cereal) and lunches (they take from home every day as do husband & I). I don't plan specific meals for each day…I do plan more involved meal prep on weekends but then leave the other days kind of open depending on how tired I am or how crazy a day becomes as we go through the week.

    As for stuff I always have on hand… the basic list you always see. Flour (WW & white), cornmeal, sugar, spices. Perishables like butter, eggs, milk, bread. Things like syrup, condiments, salad dressings. Oils and vinegars. Brown rice & oats, and usually couscous and lentils. I usually have a couple kinds of nuts and some chocolate chips to make cookies, scones, breads, etc. (or nuts on salads, etc) PB & a couple jellies. Teas, coffee, honey.

    I usually have a couple kinds of pasta and a couple jars pasta sauce for quick dinners, plus cans of tomatoes & tomato sauce and assorted canned beans for soups and chili. Garlic & onions–tons. Usually a couple kinds of cheese.

    I always have yeast for bread or pizza crust. I always have veggie & chicken broths, usually frozen homemade but low sodium canned if I'm low.

    Lots of fruit & baby carrots for lunch boxes (other veggies depend on CSA). We do usually have some kind of dry cereal, random crackers, tortillas & taco shells.

    Meat varies w/sales but I usually have fish, chicken (whole and breasts), and ground turkey. My husband teaches and likes to cook during his breaks so also in the freezer from time to time we'll have muffins, quick breads, soup/chili, pancakes/waffles, casserole type stuff (lasagna, shepherd's pie). It ebbs & flows, but I often have a stash of cooked food to work from in the deep freeze during the school year. Not sure if that counts as pantry!

    In general, I can usually put together some kind of pasta dish, some kind of soup, breakfast for dinner, fish with some kind of grain & veg, and some kind of tex-mex type meal each week. That's 5 meals just from my pantry! I can usually make cornbread, rolls, biscuits or sandwiches…usually to go with the soup. I also do stir fry with veggies (w/ or w/o protein) and brown rice fairly regularly. That's not what we actually eat every single week, but I know that's what's usually out there after shopping each week & depending on what I've already made, one or two of those options is almost certainly sitting somewhere in my kitchen so I have no excuse not to cook. Theoretically!

  28. OMG you all are so organized!
    I have a general idea of what I will make each week, I sometimes even write it down on a bit of paper that sits on the computer desk in the kitchen. I don't always follow it.
    I do most of the cooking, my DH does all the laundry except hand washables…He has only shrunk a few items in 28 years and I've only fixed a few meals he didn't like..Fair trade.
    That said.
    I do keep certain things on hand to make it easier to manage good meals with and it is amazing the amount once I've looked:
    Oils: olive, coconut, sesame, butter.
    Spices: fresh basil and parsley, good pepper in a grinder, a good sea salt, a good curry paste.
    Cheese: extra sharp cheddar, a good pecorino romano, parmesan, and lately good goat cheese from the farmers market.
    a few good vinegars
    Fridge: milk, whole milk yogurt(yes), homemade kefir, pastured eggs, spinach, kale, red leaf lettuce, lots of veggies. (lately tons of tomatoes from my brothers garden, and peppers and broccoli)carrots
    a good mustard, butter, soy sauce.
    Fresh fruit, pesto
    Freezer: I keep frozen onions on hand just in case I run out of fresh. Corn, in the winter green beans. chicken, grass fed ground beef.
    pre made balls of whole wheat pizza dough,frozen Alaskan salmon.

    Pantry: dried beans, canned beans, canned tomatoes, a few boxes of chicken broth, brown rice,quinoa, whole wheat pasta (i found a brand at costco that actually has more flavor than most)a few jars of pasta sauce, pumpkin, coconut milk, evaporated milk (I use it for potato soup in the winter)the brand of baked beans the 16 yr old will eat and at least one other shaped pasta. Whole wheat flour, corn meal.
    I can generally throw a meal together with what I have on hand. We eat 2 -3 meatless dinners a week. In the winter we eat soup, chicken stew and a few other meals that provide leftovers for another meal.
    On the days I work I try to utilize a crockpot.

    I taught myself how to cook. I didn't need to know growing up. My grandmother lived with us and when mom was working full time Grandma cooked. She wouldn't let me near the kitchen unless it was to do the dishes or take out the trash.
    When I met my husband he was living on pasta and shaker parmesan cheese, I showed him that he could eat better on the same amount of money by eating rice and beans or lentils. If we pooled our food money we ate really well, I think that is really why he married me.
    That and I don't allow canned parmesan in the house. We grate real cheese at the table on the pasta.

    You should have seen my kids faces the first time we had pasta at the in-laws…

  29. How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson is good for teaching techniques. It is very concise. She tells you how to sear a piece of meat, how to make a reduction sauce, how to make a soup or fritatta and other basic techniques and then has sample recipes but you don't really need the recipe because you know the technique and can adapt it easily. Good for beginning cooks.

  30. A long time ago in Health magazine they had a list of pantry basics and "four hurry-up meals." I cut that out and hung onto it for a long time. That's the kind of stuff that we need to distribute to families so that they have the tools to cook and buy accordingly at the grocery store.

  31. Mrs Q, I totally agree. One of the best things I did when I was working was make a list of "10 minute meals" – angel hair and diced tomatoes with canned olives, for example. My fave go to was a skillet casserole – ground sausage, brown instant rice, and frozen chopped spinach. One pot meal, under 15 minutes.

    Actually, I need to do that again, LOL!

  32. We're on food stamps, so I try to meal plan for 3-4 weeks at a time. I keep a list of meals with their necessary ingredients in my phone's organizer, along with a changing weekly list of menus and another list of meals that sound good or go well with the weekly list. Once I have about 10 items on those two lists (weekly meals, random meals) I make my grocery list based on what those meals need. I have a standard grocery list with other things on it — fresh fruits, frozen vegetables, bread, grains, pasta and sauce ingredients, cheese, snack foods — so all I have to do is add the meal ingredients to my stock list and I'm set.

    I tend to always have rice, pasta/sauce, lemon juice, canned beans, healthy-ish convenience foods (a couple frozen Buitoni pasta dishes, Lean Cuisine "market creations" stuff, microwave-steamable vegetables in sauce), whole-grain bread, vegetable or chicken stock, and yogurt butter handy. I can make a ton of meals with the non-convenience stuff if I'm running low on planned items, and the convenience foods get used probably two or three times a month — I'm an insomniac who recently separated from my husband, started navigating single mom-hood, and returned to the workplace, and sometimes homecooked dinner is just the ball that gets dropped that day.

    Aside from that, most of my meals revolve around smallish portions of lean protein, tons of vegetables, and a middling amount of grain. Tonight we're having pork stew (1/2lb lean pork cubes, 2 white potatoes, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 celery stalks, several handsful chopped carrots, diced purple onion, stewed tomatoes, all cooked in homemade chicken stock) over brown rice. It's a fairly representative meal. A lot of our protein is eggs, beans, dairy — It's not always meat.

    I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that the things I always have fit into a short list, but the stuff I buy regularly tends to be very similar. Oh, and while I do plan meals with my crazy list system, I don't plan which days I'll make which meals. I just keep a list of what I intend to make this month and decide when to make what depending on what sounds good and how much time I have that day. The list just ensures that I have the ingredients on hand when the mood strikes.

  33. I've really loved reading everyone's comments on this topic (and your entry, too, Mrs. Q)!

    Mrs. Q, tell Mr. Q that real men might not EAT quiche but they damn well MAKE quiche! He's gotta get with the program or it might be said that you have two sons rather than one 😉

    @The Table of Promise, maple syrup (the real kind) needs to be refrigerated or mold will eventually start growing on it. The fake kind is made from corn syrup so it doesn't need to be refrigerated (:-b

    I think I'm pretty lucky because my mom, dad, and grandparents taught me to cook starting when I was a toddler. It started as a form of entertainment, really. I loved the creativity and chemistry and making a big mess which is a specialty of mine to this day.

    My mom did most of the cooking for our family but my dad usually made something big on the weekend. He was the adventurous eater in our family and he was always cooking us new things we had never heard of. My mom, my siblings, and I were his willing taste testers.

    My grandpa on my dad's side was my grandma's sous chef and garde manger (the person in a restaurant responsible for making salads and other cold dishes). They both used to narrate to me what they were doing and why and they let me taste things as they went along. It was like watching cooking shows about 30 yrs. before The Food Network came along. My grandpa also had a tremendous green thumb. Good Italian couple that they were, he and my grandmother canned enough homegrown fruits and vegetables to feed several families through the winter with the excess going to the neighbors. My grandfather built a second kitchen in their basement which they mostly used for canning. He also built a system of wooden shelves that he specially designed to fit standard sizes of canning jars.

    On my mom's side, my grandma died at a fairly young age so my grandpa had to learn to cook for himself. He had Type 1 diabetes and he taught me a lot about good nutrition and eating a balanced diet. He also taught me to bait a fishing hook with a live worm which I think is an important and useful hunter/gatherer skill.

    I don't have children so I have the luxury of not having to plan menus in advance. I'm moody about what I eat so I generally play it by ear when it comes to weeknight dinners. If I have nothing in my freezer that appeals to me, I'll quickly check the sale flyers and stop at the market on my way home from work. I find that sale produce is usually what's freshest and usually use that as my inspiration for the rest of the meal.

    I typically make at least one large batch of something on the weekend and freeze the leftovers in one- or two-meal portions. When I make homemade pizza, I make extras and freeze them. Frozen pizzas from the market are a travesty. Ditto frozen meals from the market and canned soup. I reach into my freezer and pull out homemade soup when I want it. I also have a handful of quick homemade soups in my repertoire that I don't mind throwing together after a long day at work. I also keep a few simple ingredients on hand for quick impromptu dinners including canned fish (tuna, anchovies, and salmon), dried pasta, canned beans, frozen cooked brown rice (I cook it in big batches and freeze it), eggs, dried mushrooms, and a couple of types of frozen vegetables. I can't abide canned vegetables with the exception of tomatoes and pumpkin.

    I generally cook by the seat of my pants. When I want to make something I've never made before or something I haven't made in a very long time, I'll read recipes from my cookbooks and the Web. I'll combine the best of what I find in those recipes to make the dish my own. My food idols are Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pepin, and Alice Waters.

  34. I plan our work lunches and breakfast, and then usually one or two "dinners" during the week as well as one or two nice weekend meals (dinners was in quotes because we work 2nd shift together, so the work lunch is our big meal of the day).

    My staples are really changing since I've got into cooking real food from scratch. Now it's mainly butter, white flour, a mixture of whole grain flours, yogurt, raw milk, pasteurized milk, eggs, grass fed ground beef, and thin sliced steaks and bacon. I need all of those almost every week. The rest varies.

  35. I never used to cook from scratch much. I cooked several times a week; but that usually involved heating up some prepackaged stuff or pasta and jarred sauce or something simple. I'm a single girl so I not only have to cook for one, I have the sole responsibility for shopping, preparing, cooking and cleanup. I envy my married friends who have help.

    However, this spring I signed up for a recipe service at

    www dot relishrelish dot com

    and it's made a world of difference for me. I now do my shopping after going to the gym on Monday night. I cook dinner three to five nights a week; since I usually have some social obligation at least two nights a week. The service lets me pick the meals with sides I'd like to make for the week and then print out the recipes as well as a shopping list that's sorted by grocery aisle/section. I can get my shopping done in under an hour and can get dinner prepped and cooked in under an hour. I'm eating real foods and not packaged stuff and since it's portioned for two I always have leftovers for work lunch.

    I don't really have pantry staples, since the menus vary every week but I have found that I'm growing my own herbs now and that I usually have some kind of couscous in the pantry as well as more variety in cooking oils and vinegars. Honestly my pantry staples used to be Ragu, dry pasta, tuna envelopes, trader joes frozen meals and indian frozen dinners from tandoori chef.

    My friends are amazed at the fact that I actually cook; but you know what… I feel better when I do.


  37. I menu plan all our dinners. I try to take into account days when we'll need something quick versus days I have more time to cook.

    To make the list I first check out what we already have, and try to make meals on paper from that for the upcoming week. Then I write down anything we're out of that I need for the meals, plus any staples we're out of.

    I shop at Wegman's, because they have the best prices in our area, so I go to their website and use their shopping list planner to make the list. I like that it prints out the list with the aisle location for each item.

    Then, because I'm a penny pincher, I take that list (with Wegman's prices on it) and my coupons, and I go to the local grocery store to make sure that I'm not missing a better deal.

    Our pantry staples are: whole grain pasta, beans, canned tomatoes, broth, brown rice, flour (wheat and regular) sugar, oil, and low-sugar breakfast cereals, spaghetti sauce, sunflower butter, and tuna.

    Our fridge staples are: soymilk/almond milk, non-dairy vegan margarine, yeast, eggs, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, baby carrots, potatoes, onions, apple sauce, apples, at least 2 other fruits per week, whole wheat bread/sandwich thins, hummus, and plain silk soy yogurt.

    Freezer staples include: ground turkey, chicken breast/thighs/drumsticks, frozen vegetables, frozen mixed berries, refrigerated pie crust that we've frozen, and homemade bread and baked goods I've made and frozen.

  38. Oh boy do we meal plan here at home, but only for dinner. i'm 19 and i do all of the cooking (i love it). everything is organic that we make and its anything from tacos to pasta. i make a pot of soup in my pressure cooker every few days and eat on that for lunches while my parents usually eat salad for lunch. a fav quick dinner in my house is pot roast in the pressure cooker and roni mac. roni mac is made by cooking 1 pound of ground beef or turkey with spices. then add a can of diced tomatoes, an 8oz can of tomato sauce, and 2 cups of cooked maccaroni. serve with corn bread!

    Staples are: organic free-range chicken broth, organic diced tomatoes, organic tomato sauce, different pastas, frozen berries for smoothies, onion/garlic, organic milk, tomatoes, potatoes, and homemade organic tortillas or homemade organic bread/baked goods.

  39. I admit that in my head I plan menus, but I often tend to rely on my favorite stand by of cereal for supper, especially in summer. Now that school is starting again I have to think ahead and plan a little better. My goal this year is to utilize my crock pot more effectively.
    I only shop once a month, so I try to keep things that last in the pantry. I go to local farmers market for fresh produce and use it to suplement my pantry items.
    I keep chicken, diced tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, whole grain pasta, a variety of cheeses, Grape-Nuts (for cereal and quick tabouleh), rice, coconut milk, pumpkin, salsa, falafel, and plain yoghurt (for snacking and making cheese from). With those staples, I can pretty much fix something on days when I don't want to use my imagination to cook.

  40. Lots of interesting comments here! I do some meal planning, but since I'm unemployed and only have a man to take care of, it's less complicated than if I worked full time and had kids (though I plan to ONE DAY be working full time and have kids, so I'm gathering as many ideas as I can for when I really need them from you pros at this!)

    I buy most of my meat in bulk from a grass-fed only rancher and fill up a chest freezer in the garage with it, so I find myself planning my week-to-week meals around the veggies I get from my CSA or home garden rather than around meat since I have that stockpiled. If I was instead relying on the grocery store for my meat and veggies then I would be planning around what was on sale that week instead, but I bet it would work the same basic way.

    I guess my overall meal planning "philosophy" is to look at the things I get that don't have long shelf lives (fresh veggies), and keep enough shelf-stable or frozen stuff on hand to be able to cook up those things quickly before they go bad.

    It's handy to know about what Alton Brown calls "fridge velcro". It's basic recipes (or more like cooking techniques) that allow you to use up little bits of this and that in your fridge. Good fridge velcro includes pastas, stir fries, and egg dishes. You can mix pretty much anything with pasta or fried rice or put in it a fritatta and call it dinner!

  41. Mrs. Q! I did see the blog, thanks! Everyone has given me so many great ideas, a lot of this stuff I already have in my apartment but since I'll only be there for the next couple months I don't want to go too over board. I need to work on sitting down and making my dinners list every week and trying to plan a regular grocery trip, I've been slacking lately. I work weird hours (welcome to the life of a college kid with a day job and a random-hour retail job) so I often end up not eating until after 9pm (I know! not good for my system). I still eat healthy, but just not very interesting. Working on changing that though, this helps!


  42. We do serious planning, a month at a time, and I make everything we eat almost entirely from scratch. I have two little ones — a preschooler and a todddler — who go to "school" four days a week since we are a two-income family. I'm very intense about what they eat, especially when they're at school — which means they eat homemade, carefully packed lunches every single day. Check out our adventures in meal planning, lunchbox packing, and cooking at

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