You know those weeks where you can’t think of anything to make for dinner and nothing specifically sounds good?
You’re racking your brain, but nothing’s coming to mind. The meals you usually make don’t sound good and you need some fresh inspiration, STAT.
Every week I make a variety of meals often using a few of the same ingredients to both keep the food costs within my budget and to have meals I can throw together quickly and easily.
Related: 10 Tips for Cooking on a Budget
When I get stuck in these food ruts from time to time, what I always come back to is this little motto: keep it simple.
10 Foods to Buy Every Week for Easy Meals
1) Whole chicken
I generally like to buy a whole chicken instead of just chicken breasts or chicken thighs because this can be used for several meals. You can eat the cooked chicken by itself with a side of veggies, add a sauce and a side of veggies and call it a meal. Another night you can use the leftover chicken in tacos, added to soup or a salad, etc.
Onions are incredibly flavorful and are a great addition to just about any food. Cooking them makes them both easier to digest and adds a richer flavor to your food.
What can you do with onions?
- Make caramelized onions and add them to pizza or pasta.
- Make a batch of quick pickled onions and add to tacos, burgers, or sandwiches. Quick-pickled onions add both a pop of color and tanginess (from the vinegar) to your food.
- Add as a flavor builder for soups, curries, and stews.
Fresh garlic is an inexpensive way to add a lot of flavor to any meal. Like an onion, it’s also an aromatic ingredient, which means that you add it at the beginning of the cooking process to let the flavors bloom before adding in the other ingredients.
How to roast garlic for even more flavor
- Slice off the top of the head of garlic, exposing the garlic bulbs.
- Drizzle the bulb with olive oil (or an infused oil) and season with salt and pepper.
- Wrap with foil and put in a shallow baking dish.
- Bake at 400ºF for 35-40 minutes.
- Let cool before squeezing the garlic out of its peel.
Kale isn’t only for yoga-loving hippies. If you’ve tried it, and it’s not something you really enjoy, try preparing it a few different ways. *Not to brag, but my husband regularly asks me to make kale.* Ha.
Kale really is delicious though when you know how to prepare it.
If not prepared properly, it can be woody, tough, and taste like you’re eating a leaf (not exactly mouth-watering).
How to prepare kale
- Massage it with extra virgin olive oil to soften its fibers before adding to salads.
- Mix massaged kale with romaine for more nutrients and texture.
- Wash and remove the hard stem. Add the leafy part to a pan with some oil, seasonings, and coconut aminos and cook until softened and slightly crisp for a delicious side dish.
5) Sweet potatoes
There are several varieties of sweet potatoes – white flesh, orange flesh, purple flesh, etc., and they all have a slightly different flavor and texture.
What can you do with sweet potatoes?
- You can roast sweet potatoes whole.
- Make mashed sweet potatoes or a puree.
- Baked wedges in the oven for healthier sweet potato fries.
- Saute them and add to a scramble.
- Steam sweet potatoes and once cooled, add the flesh to a smoothie for creaminess and extra nutrients.
6) Bell peppers
Bell peppers are great because they’re such a versatile ingredient.
What can you do with bell peppers?
- Roast them and add to sauces.
- Slice and add to curries and stir-fries.
- Add to salads for a nice, refreshing crunch.
- Make stuffed peppers.
- Peppers are a great hummus dipper or on their own (I don’t recommend eating green peppers are their own though.)
If you remember the 5 basic tastes of cooking post, lemons help to brighten up any dish and are a great accompaniment to pasta, dairy-free sauces, dairy-free cheeses (like this vegan ricotta cheese), soups, curries, drinks, etc.
Lemons are a great way to naturally boost your immunity year-round and they help kickstart your digestion.
Not only is cabbage a versatile ingredient, but there are also several varieties of it.
What can you do with cabbage?
- Make homemade coleslaw. (I make this almost weekly and switch out the vegetables to make it new and exciting each time. You can also switch out the vinaigrette to add even more variety.)
- Saute on its own with salt and other seasonings until golden for a side dish.
- Add fresh, thin slices on tops of curries for an extra pop of color and crunch.
Rice is a versatile ingredient that spans across many different cultures. This means that there are many ways to cook with it weekly while exploring different flavors each time.
What can you do with rice?
- Make creamy dairy-free risotto with arborio rice.
- Use Jasmine or basmati rice if making curry.
- Add rice ramen noodles to soups (these are my favorite noodles!) or homemade broth.
- Make homemade sushi at home with short grain or sushi rice.
- Add to grain bowls with vegetables, protein, and sauce for a fresh spin on lunch.
Eggs are great in scrambles, they act as a binder before breading protein or vegetables. Poach them and add to brothy soups or grain bowls. You can make fried rice with leftover veggies, which is a great way to use up any odds and ends in your fridge.
Eggs can be prepared several different ways to provide plenty of variety.
What can you do with eggs?
- Make a frittata with whatever leftover vegetables you have.
- Make a batch of homemade mayo.
- Try a different cooking method than you usually do – boiled, poached, scrambled, fried, over easy, etc.
I encourage switching up your produce for both variety and nutritional needs, but these ten ingredients are a great place to start and will provide you with many flavorful meals.
Also, who doesn’t love ridiculously easy meals?