Creating meals is both a blessing and a curse. When you have a great idea, a new recipe to try, or people over for dinner with weeks to plan, shop and prep – it can be fun. Where cooking becomes a burden for me is coping with the daily grind of what to eat. This was especially true back when I had small children underfoot. Figuring out what to serve for breakfast, lunch (at home and bag lunches for school), dinner, and snacks every day, 365 days a year, was an exercise in patience. I assume a few people might embrace it with joy, but for most of us, it wears thin.
What I learned about cooking at home was limited. My mum was raised in the Midwest on a farm, then spent her early married years in a very small town there. Global food distribution was minimal, so food was basic and seasonal, with lots of canned and frozen veggies and “salads” made from Jello.
When we moved to the West Coast, her cooking expanded, but not as much as you would think. That was the era of women starting to work outside the house, so convenience food like casseroles using canned soup, Shake-N-Bake, and TV dinners was all the rage. We also didn’t have money for fancy restaurants where we might have been exposed to more diverse dishes.
Hence, I am mostly self-taught and often find myself intimidated by the skills of those around me who seem so comfortable creating meals from what resides in their fridge. Recipes have been my saving grace. It took years of trial and error to finally figure out when reading a recipe what might work and what might not be so great; to figure out what mattered and what didn’t if you were missing an ingredient, and to be brave enough to try to create a few of my own dishes with no recipe.
While I still don’t feel very confident, over time I slowly have become more comfortable in the kitchen. The pressure did ease when my kids became teens who took care of their own breakfast and lunch. I only had to deal with what was for dinner. However, a new challenge lurked just around the corner. It was called an empty nest. I no longer knew how to cook for only two. I lost interest when I didn’t have five mouths to fill and every recipe made way too much. Even worse, when I now tried to wing a meal without a recipe, I ended up with a dish large enough to serve at least ten.
Turning The Corner; A Recipe For Meal Planning Success
A couple of things have helped me turn the corner – well most days. First is watching the occasional cooking show. There are so many to choose from such as Trisha’s Southern Cooking, and The Pioneer Woman. They both use too much butter, cream cheese, and sugar for me, but I often walk away with the germ of an idea. I also check the recipes in the food section of our local newspaper for ideas. Some of my most interesting dishes have come from here.
Last but not least, and probably my current favorite, is thanks to my daughter. She also found it hard to come up with inspiration for supper every night, so found an app called Mealime. After encouraging me to give it a try for over a year, I finally downloaded the free version into my phone and started exploring. I absolutely loved the unique ideas and wide range of ethnic dishes. Most are also fairly simple to prepare. Mealtime can also be accessed on your computer at www.mealime.com.
Every recipe showcases a beautiful image of how to plate the dish when serving (something that’s helped me really up my presentation game), the option to choose between 2-4-6 servings, a list of kitchen items needed, a list of food ingredients, and step by step cooking directions. There is a search option to help you find the right recipes – meat, veggies, vegetarian, vegan, soup, rice bowl. You can also set up a meal plan for the week, say 4 recipes you want to use, and the app will create your shopping list for you. If you use the app on your cell phone, then your shopping list will always make it to the store with you.
Like all things, I wax and wane on using Mealime. Some weeks I pick several recipes to try. Other weeks I don’t use it at all as I have lots of ideas of my own or want to mix it up by getting recipes from other sources. Some recipes I like better than others, but I have yet to try a recipe that didn’t work out. My two current favorites are the Bell Pepper and Goat Cheese Polenta with Roasted Veggies, and the Vegan Beet “Poke” Bowl with Edamame, Snap Peas, Carrots, and Sesame Mayo. A few other I’ve enjoyed include Japanese-Style Broccoli Slaw Pancake with Sausage and Spicy Turkey Meatballs with Mashed Yams and Apple/Carrot Slaw. Yum!
If you’re feeling stuck in a cooking rut if you can’t figure out what to make for dinner if you’re feeling the pull to learn about different cuisines, try more plant-based meals, try new ingredients or just have your shopping list made for you – the Mealime app is a great option. Start with the free version and then if it really hits the mark for you, I suggest you upgrade to the pro version.
Remember, this is just a tool to use when you feel like it or to get ideas to use to inspire your own variation. And be sure to take guilt-free nights off from cooking. If you have a fairly well-stocked fridge and pantry, then the occasional night where everyone in the house just grazes will be a welcome change. No one will starve. Trust me.
Read our profile on contributor Marilyn R. Wilson
Read other articles from Marilyn