Plan Your Meals Like Your Mom Did

Rushing into a meal or stumbling through the supermarket is an easy way to mess up your diet or waste time and money. Plan ahead, follow these tips, and be amazed at the easy, delicious meals you can create with no extra effort.

While acceptable in college, day-old pizza still in the box with a six pack is no way to decorate the inside of your fridge. Usually in the company of stale milk, lots of ketchup and other assorted condiments, men seem to have a hard time coming up with the sustenance of meal, never the flavoring adornments.

After I got out of college, I moved in with a girl – and she had no concept of how to buy groceries or make a real meal. So guys – it’s not just us. Many, many people don’t know what it takes to make a meal like Mom. When I first moved in, a home-cooked meal consisted of browning meat and adding Hamburger Helper. Other times, it turned into an experiment in stir-fry, which really meant that it was odd vegetables mixed with chicken thrown into a hot skillet with soy sauce. And while I didn’t think so at the time, about 30 minutes later I knew that yes, you could screw up stir fry.

Then I moved into a townhome with two other boys and the same girl. The other two also brought no real culinary skills. One would subside on cereal all day long; the other was thankful that White Castle was so close by.

Now, I’m on my own and it’s probably the hardest time to buy groceries and cook – because it’s only for me. But the things I did living with three other people still work and here’s my advice: Have a plan and be brave.

Shopping List

Doing the Planning

As far as planning, this has to happen before you even go to the grocery store. Silly as it may be, make a list. You’ll be surprised how much time and money you’ll save by not aimlessly walking around the aisles. When my kitchen is getting low, I walk around and look at what’s missing and write it down on a piece of paper, easy as that. Takes about 5 minutes. Do it during a commercial break – it’s that easy.

In addition to just replacing what was there before, like peanut butter, you should think of some new things you want to try or have liked in the past. One of my favorite recipes is White Chicken Chili – it’s so easy. And it lasts me for about a week or more. It’s made in the crockpot, which is a single guys best friend. If you don’t have one I recommend it. So convenient and no hassle.

So convenience is important, but so is variety. Ramen noodles everyday in college may have been fine, but it’s just not going to do. Bravery will pay off when it comes to trying new things. You know what you like, right? Well, get creative with it. You like chicken? Think of different things to do with chicken: bake it, fry it up, make a salad, chicken salad, etc. There’s so many ideas.

Sometimes even television can provide you with ideas. One time I was watching Roseanne and I thought, “What is loose meat?” I looked it up, it was super easy and I made it. And guess what – not only did I like it, all three of my roommates at the time enjoyed it as well. Success!

If you’re out for a fancy dinner, eye something different or new and try it out – and think of how you can recreate such a meal at home. I’ve done this on several occasions and it’s worked out.

When all else fails – call Mom for her recipe collection of your favorite meals. My Mom’s chicken broccoli casserole is a must-have.

Doing the Shopping

Once you’re in the store, you’ll be happy you have your list. Most guys hate shopping and want to be in and out – with a list, you can’t go wrong. Also, If you’re on a budget, your list comes in handy so that you can prioritize necessities versus amenities. Necessities are things like eggs, milk, ground beef – amenities are Oreos or that weird cheese you like that you’ll only eat two bites of and throw out. You do need to look at different brands and such. While I admit I’m a bit lax on this, as I just pick up whatever, after a few high dollar trips to the grocery store – I started paying more attention. “Every little bit helps” is true, especially when the help is for you. If it’s something that you know you like, it’s worth the money. But for things like soups or canned vegetables (we’ll get to that in a minute), you don’t have to pay top dollar for name brand when the same thing is in the store brand’s container as well.

As far as meats are concerned, you don’t have to buy the sirloin or anything that’s outrageously priced, but you shouldn’t buy grade D beef either. Be prepared to spend the bulk of your budget on your meats and produce, which leads me to my next point of discussion.

Store Brand

Before I made mention of canned vegetables, which are easy and convenient and I enjoy them. As an adult, with ever the thought of inviting someone over for a meal, you should provide a vegetable. I know what you’re thinking…but trust me, you can find subtle ways of getting them in. Even better than canned veggies are frozen veggies or fresh from the produce. While it’s hard to keep track of what is in season and what isn’t, there are some constants you can count on – tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes, etc.

My advice while in the store: avoid temptation. You’ll be swayed when you go down the cookie isle, or see the deal on chips, etc. If you know you’re on a tight budget, refrain from anything not on your list. But if you do see something you like on sale and you can put stuff in your freezer, treat yourself within reason.

Doing the Cooking

The hardest part of cooking is actually doing it. I come home from work, like you, and I’m tired and the last thing I want to do is go to the gym and then make a meal for myself. So that’s when things like the crockpot come in handy. On a Sunday, I can bust out some chicken salad, some chili, a few salads, and some other easy items that can be taken to work for lunch or be heated up for dinner with no real extra time needed.

The creative part in meal preparation is also seeing how you can incorporate new things into the recipes you have on hand or new ones you find. Making tacos? Try adding slices of avocado, or refried beans, or perhaps even lightly pan searing a white fish and substituting the beef altogether. Delicious stuff. Yes there’s always the possibility of a bust – but thankfully you’ve got standbys at the ready or a Rally’s down the street.

Most times you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you can stock your kitchen adequately and cook a proper meal, you’re one step ahead of most guys and on the way to establishing yourself as an adult. Plus, you can invite people over and cook and save money by not dining out. Also, it’s always been a great way to impress women. So there’s that incentive as well.

Chicken Caserole

And as my treat to you, here’s the recipe for Mom’s Chicken Broccoli Casserole.

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

1 (or 2) Ibs fresh broccoli – steamed

1 can Campbell's cream of mushroom soup

1 1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 tbs melted butter

1/2 pack of crackers – crushed

1 Ib chicken breastltenders

  • Begin breaking your broccoli into bite-sized pieces into a colander and begin steaming.
    Melt tbsp of butter and mix in a bowl with crushed crackers.
  • Cook chicken in skillet on low heat with melted butter, garlic salt, onion salt, seasoning salt, and parsley flakes. Once chicken is browned on both sides, remove from pan and cut up into bite-sized pieces. Add can of soup and milk to the drippings remaining in the pan and mix together.
  • Arrange in a cooking dish, broccoli, chicken, pour on soup mixture, top with cheddar cheese, then top with cracker crumbs.
  • Bake at 400′ for 30 minutes.

Justin Thompson is a freelance marketing consultant and writer by night and by day, toils in the belly of the corporate world with only the help of his iPod. To learn more about him, follow him @justinyourmind via Twitter or visit his website at