5 common ingredients = 5 yummy dinners

Published on March 15 2010 - 3:45 PM

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the last thing I want to do is plan a menu of meals for the week. When I shop during those I-don’t-feel-like-planning weeks, I’m more apt to buy things that we always like to eat, then fill in the blanks with whatever I have in my well-stocked pantry when it comes time to make dinner. If you like to improvise when you cook, buying what looks good or is on sale at the store can save you money too. (Get quick dinner recipes that cost less than $3 a person.) Here are 5 foods I buy at the store when I don’t feel like planning dinner, plus recipes to use them in.

When you don’t have a dinner plan, what go-to ingredients and recipes do you turn to?

Ground beefDan and I both love a good burger. To switch things up a bit, I make Portobello & Beef Patty Melt. This diner classic gets a healthy makeover by replacing some of the ground beef with finely chopped portobello mushrooms, which add moisture and flavor. We like a smear of pickle relish on top, but you could try chutney, mustard or hot pepper relish in its place.

Whole-wheat pizza dough—Lots of large supermarkets stock whole-wheat dough—or try your neighborhood pizza joint—most will sell you raw a ball of dough. (I also make sure to keep ingredients on hand to whip up a batch of healthy dough  from scratch.) One of my favorite pizzas to make is Black Bean Nacho Pizza. It calls for canned black beans, which I always have in the house, and combines two of my favorite foods—pizza and nachos! Or if I’m feeling less than organized, I use pizza night as an opportunity to clean out my fridge. Leftover roasted vegetables, crumbled cooked sausage and the last bit of a block of cheese all make great toppings.

Whole-wheat pasta—I always stock up on my favorite brand of whole-wheat pasta when it’s on sale. Inside-Out Lasagna is a crowd pleaser at our house. This recipe takes basic lasagna ingredients—ricotta cheese, pasta and tomatoes—and skips the layering and long baking time to make a super-quick and satisfying meal.

A whole chicken—Before you say I’m crazy, hear me out: Pan-Roasted Chicken & Gravy takes just over an hour start-to-finish, but most of that time is inactive. Meaning that while the chicken is roasting, I have time to make a salad or mashed potatoes, pay some bills, start a load of laundry or do whatever needs to be done around the house. And because we’re just a twosome, we get at least one more meal out of the deal. I’ll use the leftover chicken to make tacos, soup or whatever we’re craving.

Potatoes—Potatoes are great roasted and mashed, and they also make a super-easy, comforting dinner when stuffed. Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes feature a mixture of lean ground beef and broccoli florets, but you can use whatever is in your fridge.

A graduate of New England Culinary Institute and University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism, Carolyn pairs her long-standing love for food with writing as EatingWell's senior food editor. Carolyn’s culinary interest is rooted in her childhood; she grew up making thousands of Christmas cookies every year with her mom and picking leaves off bunches of parsley to make tabbouleh with her dad. Away from the kitchen, Carolyn enjoys seeking out rare craft beers and exploring the outdoors with her husband, 2-year-old daughter and dog.