Far too often I get to four o'clock and start flipping through my meal ideas. I'll make a quiche; oops, no eggs. How about stir-fry? No rice. I can put together some sandwiches. No, I don't have bread or rolls.
For me, the key to simple meals is a well-stocked pantry. And I find that more difficult in the summer than winter.
I'm not sure why. I tend to be at the grocery store far more often in the summer. I might want a watermelon for a picnic or stop in for some more jar flats. Maybe I'm going to pick up peaches and make a quick stop at the grocery store on the way past or maybe I'm shopping for a camping trip. It would seem that more frequent stops at the store would result in a better stocked pantry, but somehow it doesn't work that way for me.
I think it all has to do with planning. When I make a quick stop at the store, I pick up whatever is my pressing need or the items that happened to make it to my grocery list (if I remembered to pick up my list on the way out the door.) When I am at the store more rarely, I do a better job at preparing for the shopping trip before leaving the house.
In the winter I tend to go on a big shopping trip about once a month. I use my master shopping list to go through the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room to find out what I need to add to my shopping list. Those few minutes of preparation are given back many times over when I reach for a box on the shelf, find it nearly empty, and realize I picked up a new box the last time I was at the store.
This is clearly a case of not always doing what I know I should do. I know that nothing wastes time like an extra shopping trip because of lack of planning the last time I was at the store. I know that it is more fun to cook when I have a well-stocked pantry. I just need to slow down enough to prepare before my quick stop at the store.
My challenge for you...decide on some simple meals that your family loves and figure out what ingredients those meals require. Commit to having those ingredients in your pantry or freezer at all times. For me that means items like rice, eggs, rolls, and tortillas. Your list may be completely different. Whatever it takes for you to feel like you have quick options on hand to put together a meal for your family.
In the next post I'll share some shortcuts that I take in the summer, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your hints on keeping a well-stocked pantry in the summer craziness.