The Basics of Cooking on the Fly
Meal planning is practical. Being able to adhere to those plans is magical. With families’ busy schedules, parents are often pantry diving to pull together dinners. Some may even prefer not to plan to allow flexibility for what the family is craving at that moment. That’s me. I’m not a recipe follower or a meal planner. I do thaw a couple of packages of meat from the freezer at the beginning of the week to use in the coming days for whatever strikes our mood. But that’s the extent of my planning.
Regardless of the reasons why you may be cooking on the fly, there are still steps you can take to make dinner prep easier, like having a well-stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer. As long as you have staple items on hand, you don’t need to make a special trip to the store for each meal.
Here are some staples to shop for as you browse the aisles of your grocery stores or farmers’ markets:
Staple freezer items
- Beef – Being a cattleman’s daughter, this is our family’s number one protein. I typically stock all kinds of beef in the freezer, including steaks, ground beef, and roasts.
- Pork – Our family used to raise hogs, but no longer. We do still buy pork from a local farmer every year, including sausage, bacon, and pork loins.
- Venison – We hunt and harvest the venison ourselves, processing steaks, roasts, ground venison, and summer sausage.
- Chicken – We raise chickens, but for eggs only. This is the one protein I regularly purchase from the grocery store and typically buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
Staple pantry items
- Dried Pasta – Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Any dried pastas should be kept in their original packaging or airtight containers to preserve freshness.
- Grains, Rice – Grains and rice are great for side dishes or as the base for meals.
- Potatoes, Onions, Garlic – Remember to store these items in well-ventilated containers with potatoes and onions separated to prevent premature spoiling.
- Canned diced tomatoes – Tomatoes are a great for making soups, salsa, or to stir into baked pasta.
- Chicken stock – You can also use chicken broth.
- Seasonings – What to have on hand will vary from household to household. A few popular seasonings include salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt. When storing, keep them in airtight containers, away from heat and light to preserve their potency longer.
- Baking Staples – Having items to make any basic cookie or cake recipe is helpful for desserts. These include flour (also great for a roux to thicken sauces), sugars (granulated, brown, and powdered sugars), baking soda, and baking powder.
- Cooking oil – Vegetable or soybean oil is a handy, all-purpose oil for sautés and more.
Staple refrigerator items
- Dairy milk – Milk can be used for cream sauces or a base for dressing.
- Butter – Butter is useful for sauteing and adding flavor to vegetables.
- Eggs – Eggs are versatile. I use those from my own chickens to serve alongside homemade pancakes for “brinner” (breakfast for dinner). Other ideas are to add one on top of a burger or make an egg scramble with veggies.
- Cheese – I keep cheese on hand to add flavor to dishes (e.g., parmesan for grating, cheddar for slices on burgers, mozzarella for pasta, etc.). Having cheese sticks on hand also is great for a grab-and-go snack. When choosing a cheese, keep in mind that aged cheeses last longer and often have more depth of flavor.
- Fresh veggies – When possible, we use what’s in season from our own garden. Shopping for what’s in season can also help save money. Beyond cooking on the fly with veggies, I find many also make for easy and healthy snacks, such as baby carrots, cucumber slices, sugar snap peas, and celery sticks.
These are just a few ingredients I have found to be enough to inspire a daily dinner. I hope these ideas for a well-stocked kitchen support you when having to “wing it.”