My 23-year-old daughter Lauren is kind, funny, smart, and beautiful and was once obsessed with making and photographing breakfast sandwiches. When she was in elementary school, she flirted briefly with vegetarianism and in high school, veganism. Now, she's open to cooking just about anything.
She asked me to teach her how to grocery shop and plan healthy, delicious meals that she can eat for a week. She wants her time in the kitchen to be more efficient, to minimize boredom and waste: i.e., not throw away a lot of shriveled old food at the end of each week.
Other guidelines: leftovers are fine, but not every night, and she doesn't want to start every meal from scratch. She's happy to eat a few meals out but most definitely doesn't want to live on greasy and expensive takeout.
Lauren has one shelf in the refrigerator and one in a cabinet. Her freezer needs defrosting. So how can she possibly eat well?
Easy. Be smart about how and what you buy. Keep essential — and not so essential — pantry items on hand. And the recipes? All simple.
YOUR PANTRY/YOUR ARSENAL
I am going to assume that you have a reasonably stocked pantry, which means salt (hopefully kosher) and black pepper (hopefully peppercorns that you grind when needed); an array of commonly used spices, like basil, oregano, crushed-red-pepper flakes, chili powder, curry powder, thyme, and cinnamon; olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and soy sauce (low sodium is better), that sort of thing. I also recommend you have toasted-sesame oil, unseasoned rice-wine vinegar (which is a great substitute for lime juice), and Dijon mustard.
Equipment is just as important as ingredients. They are basics that will get you through almost everything. I'm hoping you have measuring cups and spoons, tongs, a blender, a cutting board, a sharp knife, a can opener, a mixing bowl, a potato masher or fork, a wooden spoon, and, most important, a large cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet. If you don't have any of them, you won't be sorry you went out and purchased them.
SUNDAY: TAKE STOCK, GO SHOPPING, and COOK THE FIRST DINNER
WHAT YOU NEED TO BUY/HAVE:
DRY GOODS: (The rice and oats will last a year; the beans, broth, and coconut milk 6 months unopened)
1 baguette or loaf of bread (freeze when you get home)
1 16-ounce container steel-cut oats
1 28-ounce bag brown or white rice
1 15 ½-ounce can black beans or chickpeas
1 32-ounce box chicken broth (I prefer boxed to canned)
1 13 ½-ounce can coconut milk
1 11-to-15-ounce box mesclun or whatever kind of salad greens you like
1 1-pound bag carrots
1 bunch celery
1 bunch scallions
1 big handful of green beans (4 to 5 ounces)
1 big handful of snow peas (4 to 5 ounces)
1 sweet potato
1 10-to-12-ounce box grape tomatoes
1 English cucumber
1 head garlic
1 apple, whatever kind you like
DAIRY AND MEAT:
4 to 6 chicken thighs
1 dozen large eggs
1 quart plain yogurt
1 8-ounce block Cheddar cheese
1 15-ounce tub firm or extra-firm tofu
1 2-ounce jar sesame seeds
1 14-to-16 ounce bag frozen peas
1 14-to-16 ounce bag frozen berries
Depending on where you live and where you shop, this should cost between $50 and $75.
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Green Beans and Sweet Potato
This recipe is surprisingly simple and quick, but if you prefer to make the chicken more complex, add additional dried herbs like oregano and basil, or spices like chili powder and cumin. Or slather the thighs with Dijon mustard — or better yet, mustard and pesto.