I have always loved cooking, but not until we moved into Iowa did I become a person who decided to forgo eating out in favor of eating homemade food. One of the things that Gretchen Rubin says about habits, is that a big change is often an easy time to add or adjust your habits, because everything is changing. I found this to be true. I started cooking the way I previously had and shopping for one meal at a time. I went to the grocery store multiple times a week and only knew the next thing I was making, not much further than that. As I slowly started to meal plan, I heard a podcast say that when you meal plan you are in effect batching your tasks. This means that rather than wasting time wondering the grocery store multiple times a week you just go once, it is more efficient that way. This was obvious to people who are more like my husband, but I am someone who enjoys going grocery shopping and this idea had simply never occurred to me. At first meal planning feels overwhelming, it seems like just another task to complete. There is another way to go about it, and that is to figure out what foods you eat most often and just stock those, that is what I mean when I say find your staples. When I think of our cooking staples, I think of the things I could use to get me through if I was unable to shop or we were traveling and didn’t want to buy any more food. They can include a variety of categories and types of food that you often eat.
Grains- Beans, Lentils, Rice, Pasta, Polenta, Bread etc. Consider what you like to include in your meals that fits this category. I typically have dried and canned beans on hand, pasta and I always freeze my bread or tortillas so that last for a long time.
Protein- This can include beans and lentils, but it also can include nuts, eggs. and meats. This is what in your meal will fill you up. I usually have on hand beans and lentils, nuts (stored in the freezer so that they last longer), frozen chicken breasts, eggs, and many different nut butters.
Vegetables- What vegetables do you or your family enjoy eating? This for me is where I struggle with staples, my staples include things like potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. I also have frozen corn, and peas, but beyond that I typically buy what I need for a specific recipe.
Fruits- My husband is the king of this category. He basically loves all fruits. We always have bananas and frozen fruits for smoothies as well as something seasonal.
Baking Supplies- Flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cornmeal, chocolate chips etc. If you bake regularly it helps to have these ingredients to be able to bake when the mood strikes you
Spice Ingredients- This for me includes both dried spices as well as fresh. We keep on hand fresh garlic, ginger, scallions and usually some form of fresh herbs. Dried spices that are staples for us include cumin, chili powder, oregano, and garlic salt.
Fats and Oils-These are what you will most likely use to prepare your foods they range from butter to olive oil to coconut oil to many other forms of oil. This can include avocado or nut butters as well. Fats also help you feel full and are good to include in your meals. We usually have many forms of fats on hand typically butter, toasted sesame oil, and olive oil, but I have a nicely stocked pantry so if I run out of olive oil- like I did this week, I can just use something else- in this case grapeseed oil.
Dairy- Butter, milk, cheese, butter milk, cottage cheese, sour cream. We usually have some form of cheese, Parmesan, milk and butter on hand. I find for me dairy is something I frequently enjoy in my meals.
Sometimes thinking this through helps you to be prepared when something goes awry or your plans change. Also I find that these may change as your style of cooking evolves. We are not static and your cooking staples may not be static either, you may buy different things seasonally or you may go through a phase of really using one ingredient and it becomes a staple. What are your cooking staples? Does this help you prepare meals easily?