One of the hardest parts about cooking for myself is motivation.  The activation energy, if you will, needed to start the process is sometimes just out of reach.  Somedays, like last night, I think, what’s so wrong with eating apples and peanut butter for dinner?  Goodness knows I eat them often enough for breakfast (usually with some form of grain or dairy).

The physical energy needed is negligible.  My kitchen is small and easy to use.  The fridge is just three of four steps from my “desk” aka the kitchen table; the stove is directly in my line of sight; and my pots are at my right hand if I stretch a little.  Food prep?  There are simple meals that need little work.  Beat an egg; heat some broth; chop a couple of carrots.  Voila, egg drop soup.

The mental energy, on the other hand, can be enormous.  Thinking about how to turn basic foods into an appealing meal and deciding to do so are the challenges.   My solution, other than eating apples and peanut butter (which I adore), is to try to keep a few easy meal ideas at hand.  Write them down and stick them on the fridge.  Hang them over your desk.  Enter them into your smartphone or the front of your diary.  Put them on electronic stickies and tack them to your computer background.

The trick to make them successful: use mainly ingredients you almost always have on hand (or start keeping them on hand).  Have a look at these non-perishable puzzle pieces and let us know what your “at hand” meals are.

  • Grain: pasta, cous-cous, quinoa, toast
  • Vegetable: carrot*, onions*, frozen —–, canned artichokes, dried mushrooms, tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • Protein: tuna, canned beans, little red lentils, frozen fish/meat, nuts and seeds
  • Fruit: dried, canned, frozen
  • Dairy: grating cheese like parmesan or asiago*

Goal: use at least three food groups and make a meal in less than 20 minutes with negligible effort.  All ingredients must be pantry staples that are non-perishable or nearly non-perishable. Extra credit for a flavorful meal.

*Technically perishable, but very long lasting in the fridge.