One dynamite strategy in the war against high food costs is the five-meal emergency plan. Here's how it works: pick five meals that your family really enjoys and make sure you're always stocked with all the ingredients for those recipes.
I routinely meal-plan beyond that; at least once a month I go to the store with several weeks worth of meals all planned out. But even a 5-meal cushion is enough to keep me cooking at home. It makes sense: when you know there are good options right in your cupboard, it is much easier to avoid the lure of the deli counter or the siren call of the nearest fast food chain.
My favorite go-to recipes have several common characteristics:
- They're true family favorites. When I put these on the table, there will be no complaints or requests for short-order cooking.
- They're quick to cook. I can get most of our favorites on the table in less than 30 minutes or less.
- They're affordable: no super-expensive or exotic ingredients. In my book, that generally means the recipes cost no more than $1.50 per person.
- No fragile ingredients required. Instead of spinach that dies in 2 days, my workhorse recipes are likely to call for frozen ingredients, or veggies like cabbage and carrots that can last several weeks in the fridge. That means I can stock up on those ingredients and serve them tomorrow or two weeks from tomorrow without worry of food spoilage.
So what foods are favorites at my house?
Mexican Tortilla Skillet (pictured above) is a winner with everyone at our house. I can whip it out in 20 minutes flat, and then ingredients couldn't be more basic: ground beef, tortillas, and Mexican seasonings.
Quick Beef Stroganoff This rich comfort food gets extra flavor from cream cheese and sour cream, and comes together in 30 minutes.
Easy Chicken Noodle Soup This 20 minute soup calls for ramen noodles as a base, but thanks to a generous addition of veggies, it tastes way better than your typical ramen. Everyone over the age of 10 at my house knows how to make this soup. And since it's chock full of healthy veggies, I don't feel guilty serving it.
Salmon Potato Chowder Here's another soup that is loaded with yummy veggies and can be completely done within half an hour.
Chicken Fajitas Cook the veggies in this recipe separately and kids can customize their fajitas to suit their own preferences. Serve with hot sauce or salsa if you like heat.
(All recipes from FAMILY FEASTS FOR $75 A WEEK, Oxmoor House, 2009)