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Impromptu Meals - how do I plan for them?

I don't want to spend a whole day cooking five pounds of hamburger meat or chicken to put in little freezer bags so I will have them for the following week. Frozen cooked protein just does not appeal to me.

I don't want to plan the next week's menu for every day. (I really don't want to know what I will be eating on Wednesday, one day at a time is my new rule).

I don't want to make extra portions so there will be enough to redo tomorrow, although I am aware there are certain recipes that taste better the next day, so in that case, it is best to have "extra".

I DO want to be able to pop up from the computer or come in from wherever & throw together a simple but delicious dish, which means no running to the store for this, that or the other.

Am I asking too much out of life?

All this spontaneity surely must need some planning though. Are there certain things I should ALWAYS have in the fridge & pantry in order for this to happen?

If you are an impromptu eater, please let me know how you do it!! Singles & twosies could benefit from your ideas too.

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  1. Always have eggs and some cheeses.....and you can make a nice omelet

    For the pantry......pasta, canned tomatoes, olive oil, dried herbs and fresh onions & garlic....and you can have a quick 15 minute pasta sauce......cans or whole baby or chopped clams makes a nice addition.

    1 Reply
    1. re: fourunder

      I am pretty much stocked with the items you have mentioned, with the exception of canned clams. Never have tasted those...seemed like they would have a canned flavor or be too clammy...please advise. Thanks

    2. Well, funny you should mention it. I have been working on a pantry list for me. This is what I have come up with. I hope it is some kind of help. I do keep meat in my freezer because most things can be thawed in a sink of water within a few minutes.

      PANTRY BASICS TO KEEP ON HAND

      Dried foods


      Pasta
      Egg noodles
      Chinese noodles
      Couscous
      Lentils
      Split peas
      Rice (Long Grain, Arborrio)
      Zatarain’s Rice kits
      Flour
      Sugar
      Brown Sugar
      Corn Syrup
      Nuts
      Fruits
      Chiles
      Mushrooms

      Canned foods


      Beans
      Tomatoes (paste, puree, diced, sauce)
      Pasta sauces
      Corn and other vegetables
      Fruits
      Mushrooms
      Stocks (vegetable, chicken, beef)
      Soups (canned, boxed, dehydrated)
      Meats
      Evaporated Milk
      Sweetened Condensed Milk
      Vienna Sausages

      Jarred foods

      Tapenades
      Capers
      Pickles
      Hoisin sauce
      Pickled vegetables
      Dried mushrooms
      Roasted red peppers
      Olives
      Peanut butter
      Juice (orange, lemon. lime, key lime, healthy)

      Root cellar


      Onions
      Potatoes
      Loaf of bread
      Crackers

      Condiments


      Mustards
      Ketchup
      Worcestershire sauce
      Soy sauce
      Salsa
      Horseradish
      Dry white wine
      Red Wine
      Barbecue Sauce
      Extra virgin olive oil
      Vinegars
      Better than Bouillon (chicken and beef)
      Cooking Oil
      Sesame Oil
      Mayonnaise

      Spices


      Dried basil
      Granulated garlic
      Kosher salt
      Pepper
      Cayenne
      Chile powder
      Oregano
      Mexican Oregano
      Italian Herbs
      Soup Mixes
      Rosemary
      Thyme
      Paprikas (hot, sweet & smoked)

      Freezer


      Corn
      Peas
      Carrots
      Tator Tots
      Hash Browns
      Strawberries
      Raspberries
      Peaches
      Ground Chuck
      Green Bell Peppers
      Red Bell Peppers
      Pot Pies
      Fish Sticks
      Pork Tenderloins
      Pork Chops (2 & 4)
      Sausages (2 & 4)(various kinds)
      Italian Sausage (.5 lb or 2 & 4)
      Ham in small packages
      Chopped Chicken in small packages
      Pulled Pork in 1 lb packages
      Chopped pork in small packages
      Chicken Stock by the cup
      Beef stock by the cup
      Pound Cake (3 slices)
      Mini Bundt Cakes
      Chicken Leg Quarters (2 at a time)
      Steaks
      Thin Steaks
      Meatloaf
      Chuck Roasts
      Pre-blanched Green Beans
      Mashed Potatoes
      Minced Shallots in small packages

      34 Replies
      1. re: Hank Hanover

        Do you actually have all these things on hand right now??

        I don't mind frozen meats, just don't like precooked protein.

        Pound cake-3 slices....are you pre freezing them in those portions? Yes, that would be nice, you could make a fruit sauce from the frozen fruits.

        I am intrigued at your extensive list & will be studying it in the next few days to see how it can work for me.

        Meatloaf...do you make them up & freeze them at that point or cook fully & then thaw & reheat?

        Red & green bell peppers...just put in freezer without blanching or what??

        Zatarin's rice kits - are you talking about the boxed rice? I have never tried those.

        Thanks for sharing....looks like you put a lot of thought into this....my brain wouldn't let me think this thoroughly!!

        1. re: cstout

          I just recently made that list and some of those items are not yet in stock. I may end up tweaking it somewhat.

          Meatloaf. I make a meatloaf mix with 2 lbs ground chuck, 2 lbs ground sirloin and 2 lbs ground chuck. I mix all the ingredients together and make 3 loaves. I cook one and put the other two in foodsaver bags and freeze them. Meatloaf still takes 1.5 hours but it is pretty much hands off.

          Red & green bell peppers. I catch them on sale and buy 3 to 6 and chop them, put what I normally use in 1 dish (about half a pepper) in a sandwich bag (remove as much air as I can). I then put these rolled up sandwich bags into a bigger zip lock bag and put them in the freezer. When I need some I take 1 sandwich bag out and throw it in the skillet with the othe veggies I am sweating.

          Zatarain rice kits. I keep a few. I especially like the yellow rice. It's expensive but quick and flavorful.

          Pound cake (3 slices) I haven't implemented this yet but here is my logic. I have 3 people in the house most of the time. I like to make a quick dessert with a slice of lemon pound cake a scoop of ice cream and a couple spoonfuls of macerated strawberries. I think it is better than anything I could bake. I can use the same technique with other fruits that are frozen. Unfortunately, an entire pound cake just gets eaten over the following 2 days just as snacks. So I have been considering making or buying a pound cake and freezing it in 3 slice packages just for a quick dessert. I do try to keep some frozen mini bundt cakes in the freezer, too. I can bring them out and thaw them, heat them up, put a scoop of ice cream on them and drizzle some hot fudge sauce on them within about 20 minutes or so.

          Lentils, cous cous and tapenades have not been added yet. I really need to try these items and decide whether my family likes them or not.

          I keep evaporated milk around for emergencies. Every once in a while, I will want to make white gravy (that's Texacan for bechamel sauce, ya'll) and will go to the fridge and find myself running a little low on milk. That's when I use the evaporated milk.

          I have found that your spontaneous approach leads me to the take out menu more often than I like. I would suggest that, at least each day, you get a plan for dinner fairly early so you can make sure you have everything and so you are "mentally prepared" to cook.

          1. re: Hank Hanover

            Hank...no snark here. What do you do with Vienna Sausages? Do you have a fave brand?
            I am stupid about how they're used.

            1. re: pinehurst

              As I said down thread, I'm kind of embarrassed about the Vienna sausages. It is just they were always there when I was a kid. They are real garbage, consequently, I don't have a favorite brand, I buy the cheapest generic ones I can find. None of the all beef ones. I eat them right out of the can. My wife makes a sandwich out of them. I will sometimes cut them into discs and brown them, then put them in boxed mac and cheese. I have seen people heat them in bbq sauce.

              Probably the best thing about them is they are cheap and fast and will supplement a desperation cheap food budget when you are out of money on Wednesday and have to get by til Friday afternoon. You can throw them into Ramen noodles. They are good for camp outs or if you are living in your car.

              1. re: Hank Hanover

                No, don't be embarrassed at all. I see them in the Goya/Caribbean foods aisle and the canned fish/meat aisle of my local grocery and I think they'd be a good "something" to have on hand to jazz up mac/cheese or Ramen (and we keep both on hand).

        2. re: Hank Hanover

          quite a few of these things i don't eat, but i'll add some basics for me:

          frozen spinach
          blanched, frozen summer greens, like chard and beet greens from the csa
          frozen shrimp
          frozen home-made pasta sauce
          frozen tomato confit with basil
          frozen herb purees, like basil, cilantro, etc.
          flours, nuts and nut flours stay in the freezer since i live alone. this keeps them fresh MUCH longer

          garlic
          coconut milk
          canned wild salmon
          coconut oil
          harissa paste

          various cheeses
          eggs
          full-fat fage yogurt
          butter
          sugar-free polaner jam

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I don't have as formal a list as the very idea makes me rebellious ;-( but I do try to make sure I have lots of things we like: an assortment of beans cooked and frozen, farm fresh eggs, many grains, chicken thighs, some pieces of fish, canned fish, endless condiments and oils, coconut milk. I also shop for very fresh veggies at least weekly . I can always at least make an omelet.
            I also make extra whenever I make soup or braises ( I love braises without potatoes frozen and rewarmed , unlike you) and freeze them in two portion packs.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              frozen herb purees - how do you make them?

              Blanched frozen greens - also, how do you do that? Doesn't blanching them cause them to wilt? Just never have done these things, but it sure does sound interesting.

              1. re: cstout

                I don't see the advantage of freezing greens as they cook so quickly fresh and keep well in the fridge.

                1. re: magiesmom

                  i can get an abundance sometimes from the csa and it will go off before i can get through it. tougher greens like chard and kale do not cook instantly.

                  blanch, drain, dry, freeze in portions. easy.

                  i get fresh herbs cheaply from asian markets, but again, they will likely go off before i get through the bunch, unless i am batch cooking. so i whizz what's left with some olive oil and salt. divvy up into portions of about 1-2 tablespoons, wrap each in saran and then bag. perfect for adding to sauces or sautes. even though it's cheap, i hate wasting food.

                  i stopped eating grains, so beans, pasta, cous cous, bread etc. are no longer staples for me. that took some getting used to as far as what to keep on-hand for nights i don't want to "cook."

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Thank you so much for the info. I would just take a bunch of parsley, for instance, & wash off & dry in paper towels & then put in baggies to freeze. When I went to use these herbs, they looked absolutely unappealing & gloppy after being tossed in soups, etc. Hope the blanching will stop this from happening.

                    1. re: cstout

                      just to be clear -- i do not blanch the herbs. just whizz in the food pro with oil.

                      i blanch sturdy greens, like kale and chard.

                      1. re: cstout

                        How do you store those little globs of olive oil & herbs in the freezer?

                        1. re: cstout

                          ice cube trays then once frozen put them in plastic bags and store in freezer.

                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                            that unnecessarily dirties ice cube trays. ;)

                            i just spoon them into plastic wrap as 1-2-tablespoons worth and put those in ziplocs, as i said above.

                      2. re: hotoynoodle

                        yes, I see. I don't like the frozen greens much. And I find even chard and kale cook in 20 minutes, but we don't all need to do things the same way, right?

                2. re: Hank Hanover

                  Hank, I have never had Vienna sausages. How do you like to use them?

                  My own pantry and freezer organization is on the horizon.

                  Thanks.

                  1. re: AnneMarieDear

                    Well... I'm kind of embarrassed about admitting I keep Vienna sausages but they are a bit of a throwback from when I was a kid. Vienna Sausages are like little cocktail wieners in a can.

                    I usually just take them out of the can and eat them. Sometimes, I cut them up and throw them into boxed mac and cheese (Yeah I know... true gourmet cuisine).
                    My wife likes to cut them in half lengthwise and make a sandwich out of them.
                    I have seen people cut them up in little discs and toss them into scrambled eggs.

                    The big challenge is just getting them out of the can.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Ah, never be embarrassed by what you enjoy eating! If we're lucky there are bites of childhood that we like to carry along always. :)

                      If it helps, I have developed an appreciation for Velveeta. I was a snob about it until sometime in my 30s when a relative brought it along to make party food at our house. Because she was my guest, I ate her dish. LOVED IT! I think it was Velveeta mixed with canned chili and served with tortilla chips. Who knew? I have since made the V + Rotel dip several times over the years and have used it in soup.

                      Ok, I might have to work my head around to canned sausages. I eat canned tuna and salmon, not sure why this should be different. Just not used to it. Maybe I'll toss some on the grill while cooking out and start there! It's good to have proteins around with long shelf life, right?

                      Thanks, Hank.

                      1. re: AnneMarieDear

                        Vienna sausages...they might fall apart on the grill, they are kinda soft. I have warmed them in a small skillet with a touch of bar b q sauce.

                        Oh yes, you must have some Campbell's Pork & Beans to go with them. Also, if you like spicy, they have spicy flavored, but I don't care for them...I like to just add my own hot sauce. WWII military rations at its finest, my father said he would trade cans of Vienna sausages for canned peaches...says he was sick of eating them.

                        1. re: cstout

                          How have I never had them? Dad was in the war but rarely talked about it so I missed out on this kind of information :)
                          Ok, I'll try them another way. Maybe laid on top of a dish of baked beans and then baked in the oven so they brown up? We shall see...

                          1. re: AnneMarieDear

                            The good news is... they are cheap. I get the generic ones for 40 cents a can.

                            They are a part of my recommendation for desperation cheap meals for single people with limited time, money and cooking skills to make til payday. A family size box of mac and cheese and 1 or 2 cans of cut up Vienna sausages and you can eat for at least 3 or 4 days on what ...$3?

                            Hey!... you have to have a change of pace from ramen noodles.

                            Vienna sausages, ritz crackers and peanut butter and energy bars should be part of your survival kit if you ever have to live in your car.

                      2. re: Hank Hanover

                        I have to confess: I haven't bought them (or even seen them) in years, but when I was a teenager, one of my favorite snacks was--wait for it!--vienna sausages with mayo on toasted white bread.

                    2. re: Hank Hanover

                      Hank Hanover, I am hubled by your extensive list of freezer items; do, please, elaborate that you keep these items on hand at "most times?", especially dessert items and things like pre-blached green beans.

                      You sound like a culinarian sheppard of the freezer...

                      1. re: gingershelley

                        Well... I haven't implemented the following yet:
                        Pound cake (3 slices)
                        Minced shallots in small packages
                        Mashed potatoes

                        Sometimes I run out of peaches because I don't use them as often as the other fruits, stocks because I use them a lot especially chicken.

                        I try to always have chopped red and green bell pepper in the little baggies, the 1/2 to 1 pound packages of chopped meat so I can throw them into a risotto, pilaf or stirfry, pork tenderloins, chuck roasts and chicken leg quarters.

                        I started keeping pre-blanched green beans because I did it for Thanksgiving and it worked out well. All I have to do is saute them with a some shallot and garlic and they are done. Unfortunately, I can usually only keep one dinners worth in the freezer.

                        I do try to keep the chocolate mini bundt cakes so I can put ice cream and hot fudge sauce on them.

                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                          Do you blanch the red & green peppers before putting in freezer or just toss them in as is??

                          1. re: cstout

                            I just put them in as is. I keep half a bell pepper chopped in sandwich bags then I roll the sandwich bags up and put them in a quart size zip lock bag. When I need some chopped bell pepper I just go put out 1 sandwich bag and empty it into my suate pan and sweat with the other veggies.

                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                              Don't all these little baggies of things get lost in the freezer? Maybe I could get one of those dollar store flat containers & put the little baggies in there or something like that. Isn't that a lot of labeling for all those little bags of herbs & veggies??? Got to label them for sure...

                              1. re: cstout

                                I have a ziplock bag full of little sandwich bags of green peppers, one with red peppers and in the future 1 with minced shallots. The 1 lb bags of chopped ham, chicken, and pork aren't that small. They are stored in the door compartments so I can get to them quickly.

                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                  Individual bags of herbs placed in one big bag labeled "green peppers"...makes more sense to label one bag instead of all those little ones...good idea.

                                  1. re: cstout

                                    I don't label the little ones. In fact I don't label the big one because I keep them in the door and they are pretty distinctive looking.

                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      I must be doing something wrong because my little baggies get clouded up inside & I have to open them up to see what's in there. Oh well, it could be worse. Thanks.

                                      1. re: cstout

                                        I lay the pepper strips or portions of herbs on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Then I put the frozen bits in baggies. I've found this keeps the bags from clouding up or forming ice crystals.

                                        1. re: hippiechickinsing

                                          will definately try the cookie sheet freezing..thanks

                    3. a favorite meal for two of us is beans & greens. The only part of it that's best fresh is the greens, we use kale or collards as a rule. Recipe is:

                      1 onion, chopped & browned
                      1 can white beans, drained
                      1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
                      1 can tuna
                      1 large bunch greens, chopped

                      Brown the onion, add everytbing else, stir to break up the tuna, then add the greens and simmer, covered until they're tender. We add herbs (basil, thyme) or a Cajun garlic sauce for added flavor. It's quick, simple, delicious, and fairly healthy. Any meat can substitute for the tuna - leftover ham or chicken works great - or leave the meat out for a vegetarian/vegan meal.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: judybird

                        Beans & greens, that certainly sounds good & it is a good "pantry meal" too. Thanks.

                      2. Have a local restaurant that delivers on speed dial =)

                        For long term I have pastas, pasta sauces, rice, and some various canned items. I also have boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer. I grab a case when they have a special on them. The last ones were $1.28 a pound. Potatoes will last a long time, as do onions. You may also look into a food dehydrator. I dry chili peppers ,and Roma tomatoes for later use, and you can make your own fruit leathers with one too.

                        My fast dishes are chicken fajitas, and , and, ,,,,,,Crap, it's been so long now, I forgot what else I make.

                        It has gotten to the point where I rarely make a complete meal now. Usually too tired when i get home from work to fuss over making something. Many nights dinner has been a big bowl of guacamole with chips, or some other snacky item. As a result, I have to purge the kitchen, and refrigerator again of food that has become compost pile candidates.

                        If I can rid myself of the 206 mile daily commute, I will be able to get back to cooking a real meal again.

                        As to frozen meats. I usually just foil wrap the chicken, but a FoodSaver vacuum sealer makes a big difference on how long something lasts. I recently cooked a 15# turkey that was factory vacuum wrapped from 2010. It was fine, with no freezer burn. That turkey fed me for a few days.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                          Glad to hear from you again...looks like we are still rehashing the same Ole problems of what to fix when we are super tired & miles from the grocery.

                          Here is my take on ideas I am formulating as this post evolves. Also a few words to you.

                          English muffins in freezer - split in half, brown in cast iron skillet & cover them with things like eggs cooked your style, ham, cheese or whatever or just sausage gravy. Use your imagination here.

                          The pantry & fridge staples listed by folks here are good starting points. You mentioned about getting back to cooking a "real meal" sometimes. Perhaps it is best to reconsider this buying stuff for the "real meal". Rethink your lifestyle & start thinking of mono meals. I found it is OK to have something out of a can, but learn to doctor it up with something fresh. Judybird up the way mentioned a very good meal - beans & greens. Something canned mixed with something fresh.

                          Snoop around in these folks fridge & pantry & see if you can figure out what they might be planning for those impromptu meals. If it is not coming together, just ask what they could fix from their lists.

                          I see you mentioned a frozen 15lb turkey...forget the big bird & buy a couple of portions of whatever turkey meat you prefer. I like the dark meat so I bought a package of 2 thighs. I baked one in the oven slathered in olive oil & made a side of some boxed dressing, but added chopped fresh celery, onions & moistened it with chicken broth & poultry seasoning. The other thigh could be baked with some lemon pepper & oil & cooled & made into turkey salad with dried cranberries, finely chopped celery & finely chopped green onion & mayonnaise. Very good with some type of artisan bread like walnut date bread.Keep extra slices of bread frozen in pairs in the freezer. Or use the other piece of turkey to make a soup & add the veggies you have on hand plus a few handfuls of dried noodles, keep the extra noodles in a jar.Wide mouth jars are wonderful for storing beans, pasta, rice & noodles. I keep pints, quarts & half gallon wide mouth jars on hand for all kinds of stuff. There are also quart & a half jars out too, but have not found them locally.

                          The extra cranberries can be kept in a jar in the fridge or freezer & used to top salads with, put in quick muffins or stirred into oatmeal or cereal.

                          Celery should be wrapped well in tin foil in fridge..will keep a long time that way. Chop finely as needed in simple soups, stir fries or in meat loaf. You get the drift that I am trying to use up the food that I have on hand. It is a new learning curve to keep it all corralled, but let's face it. We have only the pantry, fridge & freezer to work from. How hard is that? I am speaking with more confidence than I actually have at this point, but these folks are great at showing us the way,the life & the truth. Amen!

                          Get out your pencil & paper & start setting up your own fridge/pantry/freezer list. Start from scratch. Figure out your preferences in foods. Work from that point. If you like cauliflower, consider that you probably will be buying a whole head...so figure out out how you are going to use the whole thing...don't just think you will toss it into whatever...think it all the way through.

                          Oh guess what??? These impromptu meals DO take some planning. I am not a list maker but I see these folks are pretty thorough in what they feel will make their life easier. We can do it too.

                        2. Trader Joe's Frozen jasmine rice (or your favorite variety)
                          Trader Joe's frozen peas, corn, fire roasted peppers and onions
                          A decent jar of spaghetti sauce and some olive oil
                          Basic veggies- onion, potato, carrot, garlic, celery - maybe a bag of washed lettuce and a lemon
                          Canned tomatoes, paste and sauce
                          A few good rice mixes.and some dried pasta
                          Chicken or beef stock = either frozen or canned
                          Some Italian sausages in the freezer and maybe some bacon
                          eggs, cheese, butter, milk or cream
                          Bread, rolls - fresh or frozen
                          ketchup, mayo and mustard - a variety is nice
                          Soy sauce, worchestershire sauce and garlic salt.
                          Coffee, tea, crackers and cookies
                          Canned soup, jelly
                          I require Fresh orange juice
                          My husband requires peanut butter, saltine crackers and ranch dressing

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Berheenia

                            Good stash you have there...add a few fresh veggies & you are set. Thanks for the list, I have moved some over from your pantry to mine.