This is a post I have been meaning to write for quite some time. I am a rather organised person in general but when it comes to organise lunch/dinner meals, according to my friends, I am just too good. I am not sure if this is true or they are simply kidding me, and with *good* they actually mean *a freak*, but I figured I could share here some of my top tips that you may find useful to plan a balanced and varied diet.
Being Italian, I grew up with a strong culinary culture. There are lots of negative things you may want to say about Italians but one thing for sure is that we do know how and what to eat. I am so glad my mum never fed me with pre-packaged, processed and frozen food, and I will do everything I can to do the same with this little baby who is growing inside me. Italians can organise a meal in no time, this is a talent I gave it for granted before I moved to the UK but then I realised that not everyone knows how to use the few ingredients they have in their kitchen to make a last-minute dinner. So, here are some of my tips:
1. Plan your weekly meals
Among my friends I am known (and teased!) for my to-do-lists and short-to-long term plans. I make lists for pretty much everything and I organise my life around these lists, and of course I make what-to-eat lists. At first I used white paper from a notebook but then I discovered this amazing What To Eat notepad from Anthropologie and got hooked. If they make a notepad like this, it means that I am not the only weirdo in the world!!
This is what I do. Rob and I usually do our big food shopping on Saturday morning. As soon as I get home I make a list of all the things we have bought and write the expiration date next to each item. According to the expiration dates, I then start planning our weekly meals. I always start with fresh meat and fish and then all the rest. I find it incredibly useful to plan our meals for many reasons but mostly because so I know what I will be cooking at night when I am back from work and I don't have to stare at the fridge looking for inspiration. Also, it helps me decide what to have for lunch: if I plan to have fish or meat for dinner, I will try to have pasta or rice for lunch. It's important to have a balanced diet, you see. And another benefit of lists like this is that you'll avoid to throw away food that goes bad, since you know exactly when everything expires. Useful no? Of course, you may need to stop every now and then during the week for fresh stuff (e.g. bread or vegetables) but it's fun to stop at your local grocery or deli before going back home after an intense day at work.
2. Choose simple meals
I understand that at the end of a full day at work all you want to do is relax and rest on the sofa reading a book or flipping through a magazine. But eating well is important, so make sure to cook a fresh meal every evening, especially if your lunch options are limited (e.g. sandwich or salad sitting at your desk in front of the computer!). The key secret for this is to choose simple meals to cook that do not require a lot of time or attention. You'll probably have some of your favourite quick meals (ours for example is linguine with pesto and cherry tomatoes, quick and easy!) but you will also want to vary your dinners and sometimes try something different. So I suggest introducing something new every other week. Look for a good recipe book, but not one of those complicated French books where you will need hundreds of ingredients for every individual meal. Italian cuisine, for example, is so easy! My absolute favourite recipe book, however, is not Italian, but British, written by the most famous domestic goddess in the UK, Nigella Lawson. I highly recommend her Nigella Express book.
I have tried many of the recipes and they all work. Nigella doesn't use many ingredients and you can achieve nice and sophisticated results in just a few steps.
3. Always have the basic ingredients
Make sure you always have some basic ingredients in the house, should you need to organise a last-minute dinner for your husband's friends or colleagues who are in town. You know what is essential for you, in my house the following things are always around: garlic, onion, extra virgin olive oil, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, parmesan, pesto along with a couple of other things.
4. Enjoy cooking
And last, but not least, make sure cooking and eating your home-cooked meals is a pleasure and not a task. Put your favourite tunes on while you cook, use nice and colourful kitchen accessories and linens to brighten up the room and just enjoy whatever you are cooking!