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Friday, June 18, 2010

What Do You Eat When You Don’t Eat What You Plan To Eat?

empty plate2 web

It’s Friday. And Friday is all about slacking off, taking it easy, getting ready for the weekend. So, let’s discuss meal planning slackerness in honor of this the greatest day of the week. My dear friend Emily (whom I have mentioned before and is the reason I discovered and started blogging) just had a beautiful baby boy! The week before he was born, she ‘chatted’ me saying, “Can you do a post asking people what they eat when they don’t cook what they planned?” I thought this was a smashing idea, so here we are.

Last summer, I tracked exactly what we ate versus what I planned for 4 weeks. This was a great exercise for me…but I’m still curious what YOU eat when you don’t eat what you plan. For me, every single week there is at least one day that diverges from the meal plan. That’s life, it’s gonna happen. But when that happens (which I think it does to most of us), what takes the place of the planned meals?

Emily needs help, people. She just had her third kid. She’s sleep deprived. Let’s make her feel good about throwing her meal plans out the window…and offer up ideas (good or bad) for replacing those ditched dinner plans!


  1. 1

    I make spaghetti a lot when I have nothing planned. Boil some noodles, open a jar of sauce and cook up a vegetable. Easy and it always tastes good. I just made “Mexican jumbo” last night, my mom made this occasionally when we were growing up. Canned chili in a casserole dish, crushed up tortilla chips and cheese on top and throw it in the oven. Cooked chard and carrot sticks for the sides. It tasted surprisingly very good last night. Hope these ideas help!

  2. 2
    Linds Barttels

    big fan of the sandwhich. any sandwhich. PB&J. Tuna fish. lunch meat. no hamburger buns? put it on a slice of bread! no meat? stack it with all veggies. tomato & cheese broiled & open-faced. (course i also don’t discrimiate against the heels and my husband just wants food, it doesn’t have to be pretty!)

  3. 3

    Breakfast for Dinner! Eggs or pancakes or french toast. Easy, quick, and always a hit with the kids.

  4. 4

    I had one of those nights last night (if my 4 month old son sleeps right after daycare dinner is easy…otherwise not as much). I also ended up on the spaghetti side of things. I made a “ragu” from left over sauce, a hot dog, 3 veggie burgers and a carrot with some aged gouda on top.

    I also often make clam spaghetti or herb spaghetti or bowties/nuts/tomatoes/herbs and cheese. So pasta seems mostly to be the answer, though I am trying to get my brain to think quinoa in these situations.

  5. Yep, spaghetti, sandwiches, and breakfast for dinner here, too. I am also a huge fan of the make-and-take refrigerated deli dinners at Costco. They’ve added some new ones at my store during the past few months, too. This week we tried the pork verde enchiladas and they were super delish!

  6. 6

    That was us last night- I made a mexican chicken crockpot dinner. Delish!

  7. 7

    Also – a quick bean chili – 3 cans of various beans, 1-2 cans of diced tomatoes, onion if you have one, and spices.

  8. 8

    Hellooo that’s us a lot lately. Here are our “default” dinners: Spaghetti, Mac & Cheese (doctored up with some ground beef/turkey, tuna, tomatoes, diced green chili’s, etc.), Baked potatoes, soup and sandwiches.

  9. It’s generally pancakes, spaghetti, or a big fruit smoothie with whatever else we feel like snacking on to fill us up. I’m also totally ok with picking up Costco rotisserie chicken – love that!

  10. 10

    Breakfast tacos – warm up some whole wheat tortillas and a can of refried or black beans, cook some scrambled eggs, grate some cheese, and get whatever other toppings you want (salsa, sour cream/yogurt) out of the fridge. Assemble tacos and enjoy. An easy, quick, delicious, and relatively balanced meal.

  11. 11

    This happens to me for weeks at a time. I usually end up cooking pasta with butter, cheese and whatever vegetable we have on hand. Another ubiquitous standby is egg burritos – my family would starve without those! Grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas are also frequent guests.

  12. 12

    I try to keep a totally frozen something on hand for nights like that. We also go the breakfast route A LOT. Grilled cheese and soup is fast and easy too. Leftovers, if you have them, and I will wrap almost anything in a tortilla!!

  13. 13

    Sometimes it’s just about swallowing my pride and accepting the idea of cold cereal, kraft mac & cheese, or a can of soup.

    But I often end up making omelets in the oven (15 mins in a 350 degree oven. Whisk 5-6 eggs in a skillet mixed with milk/yogurt/sour cream, veggies, and cheese). Add a slice of toast and a glass of milk or smoothie and dinnertime doesn’t feel so bad. Especially when clean up is a breeze.

    Another no fail is “taco soup” — add 1 undrained can each of diced tomatoes, black beans, corn, and chicken broth + 1 packet of taco seasoning + 1 can or chicken OR just brown up some chicken or ground beef. Toss it all together and it’s done in like 10 minutes.

  14. 14

    Thanks for the tips everyone! Anybody have tips for yummy frozen things to have on hand? I hardly ever go in that section of the grocery store, but would love some ideas should I venture in. Thanks for indulging me with the post Jane!

  15. 15
    Jennifer Toone

    We do pancakes a lot – just the kind from a box. Or spaghetti. Or boxed mac&cheese – yes, it’s pathetic. Burritos or tacos are also a great go to meal – just cook the meat, warm up the refried beans and grate the cheese and dinner is served. Scrambled eggs also appear when I’m desperate. That’s what we do when the meal plan is thrown out, which it is most days now that I’m nearing my own delivery.

  16. 16

    We’re in the pasta crowd as well. (And that’s a good frozen thing to have on hand–lasagna or raviolis–we love the cheese ones from Costco). We also will do burritos/quesadillas–which is also what my kids eat for lunch every day, but they don’t really complain if I give them the same thing twice a day. And sometimes if we’ve been at the pool all afternoon, a smoothie sounds way better than actual dinner, and then just add some chips and salsa or toast or whatever will fill us up.

    Other frozen foods we like to keep around–orange chicken, stirfry veggies and frozen shrimp, tamales, the frozen gnocchi from TJ’s (and I buy a pack of their plain gnocchi to cook as well–there’s plenty of sauce in the frozen one for both, so we can stretch it for the 4 of us). I’ll also freeze a couple extra bags of the meat mixture for bolognese when I make up a batch, or extra cooked chicken for salads, burritos, pasta, soups, etc. . . I love having several meals worth of food in my freezer ready to go just in case. ALthough I find that easier in the winter when hot cooked foods sound better. In the summer, I just want cold, fresh food.

  17. 17
    Tiffany D.

    We tend to do pasta or sandwiches when I don’t feel like making whatever I planned

  18. That was last night for us too! We had scrambled eggs and waffles. Breakfast is the usual go to meal when I sway from my meal plan. We always have eggs in the house and everyone loves them!

  19. 19
    Tiffany D.

    Oh, I thought of another really easy one I do a lot. Crock-pot chicken: frozen chicken breasts, sauce of some kind (spaghetti, pizza, canned tomatoes w/ spices. . .whatever I have on hand). Put chicken in crock pot and top with sauce. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve with pasta or rice.

  20. Grilled cheese & tomato soup, quesadillas, sandwiches of any variety with fruit salad, tacos. Breakfast is a planned meal each week for us, so I try to avoid that as a default. The other night, we had just returned from vacation which usually means we eat out on that first night home. But for some reason, I thought frozen Pizza Rolls & watermelon slices were good enough. Not the tastiest / healthiest option but it was quick, the kids loved it & we didn’t spend much to eat.

  21. 21

    We do baked potatoes with chili from a can on top with shredded cheese and sour cream. It doesn’t heat your house up to bad but is still pretty hearty. We also do eggs with tomatoes and onions cut up in it and cheese on top. serve it with hole wheat toast and it is pretty healthy. I always have frozen veggies and chicken on hand to make stirfry. We also have frozen pizza on hand because it is easy and the kids love it.

  22. 22

    chili (and cheese) over corn chips or chili over baked potatoes, “tuna toasties” (open faced tuna sandwich with melted cheese) nachos, cheese quesadillas, or breakfast for dinner… usually pancakes.

    Frozen meal? we’ve found a good frozen cheese ravioli.

  23. 23
    Kristin B.

    We regularly have a bean dip with tortilla chips. I open up a can of refried beans, then layer sour cream, guacamole, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce on top. My kids love it.

    I also do a crock pot BBQ chicken which we shred and put on toasted hoagie rolls. Throw as many frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot as you want and cover them with your favorite BBQ sauce. Cook until you can shred them. I make a bunch and throw it in the freezer.

  24. thai curry. i keep a can of coconut milk, a jar of red curry paste, and some rice around, then stirfry up whatever i have in the fridge.

  25. 25

    Sometimes it’s about what leftovers I need to use up. Last night I made chicken salad. Grilled chicken, mango chutney, mayo, lime, and pecans, craisins, onion, ect. I just opened the fridge, and started throwing it in! Served it on lettuce with crackers and sweet pickles. I also keep homemade bean burritoes in the freezer for a 10 min meal. Martha Stewart has a good recipe on her website.

  26. Pizza…like this one…
    is a go-to for me since I cab change it up to fit whatever is on hand. But if I were to be honest here…on days I haven’t planned well or what I planned doesn’t sound good…I end up turning to take out. Bad I know…but some days I just don’t have it in me!

  27. 27

    cold cereal!

  28. 28

    For me, it’s cereal or PB&J or a leftover of some sort. For the kids, it’s Easy Mac or a Hot Dog or Cheese ravioli.

    My meal planning hasn’t been all that for a few months and I need to get back on the wagon.

  29. 29

    hot pocket. (in jim gaffigan falsetto)

  30. 30

    Tacos probably get substituted in for plans that just can’t or won’t happen more often than not. With three teenagers – two of them boys – it’s a natural.

    If it were just me and the girl – we’d default salads hands down.

    If it were just my husband and I – he’d probably throw a burger on the grill, and I’d maybe heat up a cup of soup.

    If it were just me – maybe pasta salad (I just threw one together the other day that’s delish! See or a soup. I try to alway have one or the other thrown together and hanging in the fridge for just those occasions!

    And Emily – sweetheart – the best advice I can give you about the stage of life you find yourself in right now is this: say yes whenever anyone offers to help! I don’t know how we could have made it through life’s ups and downs without the folks at church who have delivered countless meals, cleaned my house, done my laundry, stopped by the grocery store, or just come to hang and encourage my weary soul. When my kids were babies – just having a sympathetic, gentle soul to hold a colicky baby, or give me an hour to nap – priceless! I don’t know where you live, but if you’re in or around Portland, Oregon – drop me a line, and I’ll swing dinner by, okay?

  31. 31

    My big time and dinner saver in life is frozen hamburger. I buy it when it goes on sale and bring it home and cook off ten or fifteen pounds at once. I brown it off, rinse it in hot water and drain, then pack into sandwich sized ziplock bags. Then when I need dinner fast I pull it out of the freezer, defrost it in a bowl and viola!, it’s ready for my “save dinner” meals:

    Ground beef quesadillas

    Shepherd’s Pie(can of gr. beans, can of beef gravy, hamburger sprinkled with garlic salt, shallots, mashed potatoes and cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes)

    Taco Soup (28 oz. can of tomatoes, 15 oz. can of tomato sauce, can of black beans, can of corn, taco seasoning mix, ground beef. Top with sour cream, cheese, avocado, tortilla strips or chips, jalepenos, olives, green onions)

    Mushroom beef gravy over mashed potatoes (can of cr. of mushroom soup thinned with some water, ground beef, worchestershire sauce, garlic salt)

    Enchilada casserole (ground beef or diced chicken, 1 can cream of mushroom if I’m using beef or 1 can cr. of chicken soup if I’m using chicken, 1/2 C. sour cream, 1/4-1/2 C. milk, 1/4-1/2 C. green enchilada sauce. Layer in an 8×8 pan with flour tortillas and top with cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

    We also have frozen pizza, Chipolte style burritos with leftover meat or waffles when dinner isn’t planned well.

  32. 32

    Dina, you are a saint for offering. i lived in San Diego…much to far to bring a meal. but, your kindness made my day! thank you.

  33. 33
    Michelle Smith

    It is either Tacos/Fajitas or Brinner (that’s breakfast for dinner at our house!) It usually happens once a week…I call it my fall-back menu.

  34. 34

    Love the rotisserie chicken from costco or grocery stores– makes me feel like I’m eating a real meal while cooking nothing (except maybe mashed potatoes and veggies). Plus, there are a million things you can do with the leftovers.

    Other standbys: wheat pancakes, grilled cheese & tomato soup, frozen tortellini or ravioli with pesto(I keep pesto in my freezer),leftovers, or if all else fails- cheerios.

  35. 35

    In Hawaii, they eat a lot of chili on cooked rice. Although we don’t live there anymore, that is one we fall back on. It’s easy and filling.

    Although I’m sure people will cringe, frozen food will SAVE you. Most likely you won’t have a chance to make your own right now. Don’t feel guilty about eating something frozen from the store. It’s not ideal but it’s better than starving or running to fast food.

    We always have Stouffer’s lasagna on hand, fish sticks, breaded chicken breasts (Costco carries some of the best around), frozen pasta, pizza, chimichangas or burritos, and orange chicken. We haven’t enjoyed the frozen dinners that come in bags (like stir fries) but you might. We haven’t tried Bertolli’s dinners, so they might be OK but I don’t know. Again, frozen entrees aren’t ideal in a normal situation but until you get some rest and the family adjusts to the new arrival, enjoy the ease that freezer foods bring.

  36. 36

    We make things like:
    – Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup
    – Kraft Dinner/Annie’s Mac
    – Eggs with mushroom/onion and toast or poached egg and toast
    – Perogies that I pull out of the freezer with sour cream and chives
    – Spaghetti and sauce
    – BLTs

  37. 37

    Chicken tortilla soup: 2 can chicken broth, one can cream of chicken soup, 1 can ranch beans, 1 can rotel tomatoes, and 1 can chicken (or leftover cooked chicken). Mix it up, cook over medium heat for about 15 – 20 minutes and serve with chips and sour cream. Yum! We also make cheeseburger macaroni a lot. The recipe is on the box of Velveeta shells and cheese.

  38. 38
    Traci P.

    On those nights my family likes homemade “egg mcmuffins.” I usually have english muffins or bagels on hand. Fry an egg, top with a slice of cheese and put it on the english muffin with a slice of deli ham or a frozen sausage patty. Pair it with some fruit and it’s great.

    I am not much for any frozen foods at all. BUT, recently purchased the new Tyson grilled chicken breasts and they are pretty good in a pinch. You can make a sandwich or chop it up to put on a salad.

  39. 39

    we eat a lot of breakfast for dinner when i don’t feel like cooking. or blts, grilled cheese and tomato soup, or grilled bbq chicken with baked potatoes. quick and easy. i also love the frozen orange chicken costco carries, super easy and yummy over rice.

  40. 40

    I actually plan a whole month of dinner meals on a calendar template in Word. (I save the template so I can use a previous month’s menus for ideas.) Even though a meal is written down on a specific day, I am under no pressure to do it on that day. I can do whatever meal I want! When I make it, I cross it off the calendar. I’m still sticking to a “meal plan”, but it is super flexible for whatever I feel like making. I even use the extra spaces that don’t have dates on them to write in other dinner ideas that I forgot about when writing up my month menu. While this seems almost too flexible, the monthly menu idea still provides a framework in which to shop and use what I have on hand.

    Also, I have Fridays as Pizza day (homemade or take out) and Saturdays are usually leftovers (though, not set in stone.) This system has worked really well for me.

  41. 41

    Since we started getting serious about meal planning (probably a month or two ago) it’s been really tough to stick to our plan and get in a routine of making what we actually planned. I would definitely say spaghetti is the go-to dinner as we always have the fixings in stock. We also see if there’s anything quick in the freezer or pantry that might need to be used that we forgot about, i.e. pierogies, frozen backup vegs, a frozen lasagna for emergencies, mac n cheese even…etc. My boyfriend has a wonderful passion for cooking and can literally whip up a tasty dinner out of vertually odds and ends (his cooking abilities really amaze me and quite frankly, I’m a little jealous of him!). When we plan a menu and we don’t eat this certain dinner on this certain day, we at least try to have it that week. I guess we’re trying to do that as well currently: have a week’s worth of dinner planned out then choose which dinner works best for which night, because our schedules can change in the drop of a hat.

  42. 42
    Erika B.

    I fall back on many items already listed and a really awful one no one else mentioned!

    breakfast for dinner (eggs, pancake mix, smoothies)
    boxed Mac and Cheese (yummy!)
    canned soup and toast
    frozen food from Trader Joe’s or Amy’s
    cheese and crackers with fruit
    take out Chinese food
    DRIVE THROUGH TACO BELL! Not all the time, but very useful in a pinch.

  43. I have a bag of frozen chicken breast (Tyson or Sam’s Club has them) that you can cook from frozen, so no need to plan the defrosting. Serve with a side of frozen veggies and instant rice, cous cous, stuffing. I usually keep tortillas on hand so so can quick thaw (microwave) a pound of beef for tacos, or I make quesadillas with any mix of corn, black beans, refried beans, cheese, leftover meat, avocado. Pasta (spaghetti or tortelleni with red sauce, or some jarred pesto and any leftover meat, frozen broccoli, pepper, mushroom thrown in. I also purchased a loaf of sliced Texas toast style bread to make a quick garlic toast when needed. Or frozen pizza.
    Frozen shrimp thaw fast, sautee with lots of garlic, parsley, olive oil, some crushed red pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon/white wine if on hand, and serve with spaghetti.
    Also, crockpot BBQ pork can make a lot and freezes fairly well I’ve discovered. Use in tortillas, on buns, maybe even on a homemade BBQ pizza. And make an extra lasagna to freeze if you happen to be making one for dinner.

  44. 44

    BERTOLLI’s frozen meals are very good… I use them quite a bit once they got to our stores.

    Default meals:

    Any kind of pasta, alfredo sauce we always seem to have the ingrediants for, and some chicken breast on top, Also boxed risotto with a grilled chicken breast, super easy and quick.
    Tacos, Spaghetti, and all the simple stuff, usually on the days I work… 10 hr days = no creativity in the kitchen when I’m home.
    tortellini in chicken broth… mmm & a salad

    When really desperate; PIZZA delivery! 🙂 Hang in there Emily, enjoy the scent of a baby and realize it gets easier!

  45. 45

    I have several meals that are pantry meals and can use those. I keep buttermilk in the fridge at all times for pancakes for dinner. I usually have some bananas to mash to make buttermilk banana pancakes and have fruit on the side. My kids love pepperoni pasta…super quick and easy. Cook up pasta of your choice. I use Barilla whole grain penne. Drain pasta. Heat olive oil in pan. Add sliced pepperoni (I slice the slices into thin strips) and garlic. Cook to soften pepperoni. Toss with pasta. Add salt and pepper and parmesan cheese. Always keep Trader Joe’s frozen stuff on hand–mini tacos are a favorite quick meal that my older kids can make. Have several good recipes for your crock pot/rice cooker where you can set both early in the day and have both ready at meal time. Add a TJ’s frozen vegie and there’s dinner! Good luck!!

  46. 46

    Taco salad is another good quick one!

  47. my go-to dinner is pulled pork sandwiches.

    pork tenderloin in the crock pot with bbq sauce + vinegar if you have it. cook for 6 or 8 hours and put on a toasted roll. pork tenderloin is so lean i dont feel bad eating two!

  48. 48
    Jenn J

    Emily, do you live near a Trader Joe’s? They have a lot of great frozen foods without tons of preservatives. Here are some good ones:
    –frozen pizzas (large and mini)
    –chicken or veggie gyozas
    –enchiladas and burritos
    Their boxed soups are great, too!

  49. 49
    Tiffany A

    I have a few things that I learned from my MIL (she had 12 kids!). When we buy ground beef or ground turkey, we will actually brown some of it right away then portion them out and put them in our freezer. I find it really helpful when I have less time to get things ready for dinner. I just grab one of those out of the fridge and thaw them in the microwave then use it for whatever recipe I need.

    Another thing that I try to do is when I know I am cooking a dinner that I could freeze, I try doubling it and freezing one of them for the I don’t have time to cook or I am too lazy to cook nights.

    I use a lot of the defaults that people have recommended already. But one that I absolutely love doing is going to the store and buying the long french bread loaf. I bring it home and use that to make pizzas. We just use canned tomato sauce and add our own spices to it. Then we throw whatever vegetable we have on hand onto it as well. The nice thing about it is that my girls love to help with it. We can basically let them make their own pizzas.

    You are so amazing and I am sure that you are doing fine! If you need any help, we are still in San Diego and we would love to bring you dinner anytime!

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