Most of us can follow a recipe, but doing so takes time, effort, and planning. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually have time to shop for specific ingredients and cook a specific dish. Dinner at my house normally involves opening up the fridge at about 6pm and putting together a meal using food we already have. These meals aren’t necessarily the most gourmet, but they’re always tasty, healthy, and much cheaper than eating out.
A few weeks ago I shared my formula for making quick meals without a recipe. Following this formula makes the process of “whipping something up” much easier, as does grocery shopping regularly so that you always have at least a little food in the house. Here’s a look at what I usually have in my fridge. These staples allow me to do what I do!
Yogurt. I always have plain yogurt (versatile because you can add it to savory dishes or just eat it), and we usually have some small flavored yogurts that Tyler takes to work for a snack. I keep all the yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, and other dairy containers (besides milk) on one of the top shelves.
Sauces, dressings, pesto, other homemade condiments, plus little bowls of stuff I’ve pureed for Lucy. I like to keep these items in clear containers on the top shelf, because when I am thinking of what to make, they help determine the direction of my dinner.
Cheeses. I always have a very hard cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, because these last forever and come in handy for flavoring all sorts of dishes. I also like to have a softer cheese for salads (blue, goat, feta) plus a semi-hard cheese (cheddar, gouda, etc) for snacking or serving with crackers/breads if people stop over unexpectedly and I need to offer some nibbles.
Prepped veggies and fruit in clear containers. I’ll admit on my busiest weeks this doesn’t always happen, but most of the time, I have ready-to-eat fruits and veggies visible when I open the fridge. I can snack on these, or use them for a meal without having to chop as much.
Eggs. When I set out to make a meal, particularly dinner, the first thing I do is pick a protein. If we don’t have meat, tofu, or fish, I plan around eggs and/or beans. So I always have eggs in the fridge. They last for a month or more, so they rarely go bad before they get used. (Also pictured here is leftover rice and beans from a Mexican dinner out – I used these twice for taco salad).
Grains or breads. Each week, I pick one whole grain bread product (pita, tortillas, bread, bagels, etc) to use for breakfast, sandwiches, or a side at dinner. Sometimes I forgo the bread for another grain like bulgur, wheat berries, wild rice, or couscous; I’ll cook a big batch then reheat the grains for meals or add them to salads.
Veggies. These are the staple of our diet. Every night our meal is mainly vegetables, with a little protein, grain, and cheese or nuts thrown in. Some weeks I feel like salads – so when shopping, I’ll buy veggies that are best eaten raw (lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, green onions, carrots, etc). Other weeks I feel like soup or cooked dishes – so I get veggies that are good for roasting, sauteing, or stewing (onions, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, squash, etc). I rarely buy ingredients for salads and cooked dishes, because this leads to wasted produce.
Fruit. (And more veggies). I like to have 2-3 kinds of fruit at all times, since this means I’ll snack on fruit instead of something less nutritious. I keep apples and cut fruit/berries in the fridge, but other fruits (as well as onions, lemons, or anything that needs to ripen more) stay at room temperature.
Cooking without recipes does take a little practice, but there’s no better time to get started than now. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, and the more fun it will become. It’s definitely worth the “investment” of learning, since you’ll eventually a save a huge amount of time, money, and stress! Here are some more articles with other tips to help get you started:
Spice Cabinet Staples and When to Use Them
How to Be Your Own Personal Chef