You arrive home late after a long day of work, and you just don’t have the energy to make it to the grocery store. But you’ve been doing so well with making healthy homemade meals…
Does this sound familiar?
Guess what? All you need to do to avoid that dreaded visit to the store when you are not in the mood is get a little creative!
Unless those cupboards and fridge shelves are totally bare, dinner is just a few minutes away. Really.
Grocery Shopping Woes
I usually love going to the supermarket and imagining all the delicious possibilities, especially here in Mexico City. But there are times when it’s just not going to happen.
This is especially true for me during the summer, when it rains every single afternoon and evening. If the many tasks of a busy day take take over and then the rains start, it’s time to skip the trip to the store and raid the fridge instead, to see what’s there.
In Argentina we had a tiny store on every block, but they only stocked the basics. Sometimes these just weren’t sufficient, or I didn’t have the energy to trek farther than the end of my own block to a larger supermarket with more variety.
It is pretty much the same here in Mexico City, where the very best option is always going to the weekly street fair and purchasing everything fresh, sold right out in the open.
There are wonderful homemade moles of every type you can think of, piles of fresh produce… but this is only on the weekends, and they close early. If you procrastinate, it’s too late.
Farmers market schedules are similar elsewhere, and few of us are lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from a full-service grocery store that’s open late. The same applies when you sleep in late on the weekend, and grocery shopping just doesn’t jibe with the relaxing Sunday ahead.
Fortunately, you have options. And I’m excited to share a few of my favorites. They’re all super flexible, and easily customizable to utilize whatever you have on hand, to quickly put together a homemade meal.
One such morning, I only had rice, garlic, onions, and flour in the cupboard. So I decided to make homemade flour tortillas with Mexican rice.
I did a little research on YouTube, found a video that explained how to make homemade flour tortillas, and prepared a Sunday brunch that was both delicious and easy to prepare.
I made a huge plate of Mexican rice with homemade, hot flour tortillas, and served it with hot coffee and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. And I never had to get out of my jammies or go to the supermarket!
The hardest part was making the tortillas perfectly round, which I still have not mastered. But they taste just as good even if they are oblong or oddly shaped, and mine improved with each roll of the rolling pin.
You sort of get the hang of it as you go along. And the key here is that homemade food doesn’t always have to be picture perfect, or made with a lot of specialty ingredients.
I’d love to purchase a tortilla press, which I believe will make them perfectly uniform. But I was very surprised at how easy they were to make when I wasn’t as worried about the presentation, and the fragrance of them cooking was wonderful.
The Mexican rice that I paired with these tortillas is very simple. Just fry up some regular white rice with garlic and onions – staples that you likely have on hand. Add tomatoes (canned or fresh, or even some tomato juice), and water.
Cook it up and enjoy it with those fresh, warm tortillas. If a few fresh veggies are lurking in the veggie bin, even better. Heaven!
Remember, even if you do not have all of the ingredients that a given recipe calls for, if you can whittle it down to just the basics, it will still be yummy.
No cilantro stems (totally edible, and great in Mexican rice)? Okay, no problema. This dish is still delicious without them.
Another fun dish to prepare that’s a typical Argentine go-to is a cold rice and tuna salad. You can make this dish in many different variations, and actually clean your fridge out at the same time!
It’s also nice to enjoy any leftovers the next day, when they’re cold and ready to eat. This makes the perfect quick weekday lunch, so make a big bowl of it!
After you prep your white rice, chill it. Drain a can or two of tuna (salmon works as well), and stir it together with some mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Then it’s time to explore your cupboards and fridge.
There are so many things you can add that you probably already have on hand. Such as:
- pitted and chopped olives
- finely chopped onion
- canned artichokes or hearts of palm
- frozen peas (boil and chill, or just throw them in with the rice during the last 10 minutes of cooking)
- dried fruit like cranberries
- chopped nuts like almonds
- seeds like sunflower or hemp
You get the idea. Chill your tuna salad in the fridge and there you have it: a simple, healthy, and easy dish made from ingredients that you already had.
Adding fresh chopped tomato or herbs like dill, parsley, or cilantro is another possibility. This is a great dish for using up those extra odds and ends from when another recipe that you made earlier in the week called for just a handful of fresh herbs.
You can also change up the grain that you serve your salad on top of. Use brown rice, quinoa, sorghum, or wheat berries for a chewy texture, and to pump up the nutrient content of your dish.
In the US, chances are that you have bread, cans of tuna, and sliced cheese in the fridge. My go-to here would be an open-faced grilled tuna and cheese sandwich, a.k.a. a tuna melt.
Again, you can make a quick and satisfying sandwich in so many ways.
If you have a tomato, throw a slice on top while you melt the cheese. If not, it is still delicious and filling without.
If you have a stick of celery or a carrot in the fridge, grate it or finely chop it, and add it to your tuna salad mixture along with your mayonnaise. Maybe add a shake or two of your favorite spices, or some chopped olives.
For extra crunch, I like to grill the bread with just a tiny bit of butter.
No tuna? No problem. Boil up some eggs instead, and prepare a quick and easy egg salad.
I also like to put mustard and ketchup on the side, and alternate dipping my bites from one to the other. Ranch dressing, blue cheese, thousand island, hot sauce – time to pull out those long-forgotten condiments to add some zest to a simple meal!
If you have a jar of pickles, great! Add a pickle on the side, and serve.
I could go on and on about this one. A nice hot plate of pasta is always a pleasure to eat, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or planned in advance.
First, it is very likely that you have a bag of dried pasta in your cupboard. Serve it simply with extra virgin olive oil and grated parmesan cheese, or get a little fancier and fry some garlic chips in olive oil to sprinkle on top, maybe with some hot pepper flakes for a bit of heat.
You can even throw a chopped tomato into the mix at the last moment, fresh herbs, or an anchovy that will melt away into flavorful goodness.
I love Italian flat leaf parsley on my pasta dishes. If you have a bit left over, use it up and garnish with it here.
Remember, pasta does not have to be eaten hot. Cold pasta salads are easy, delicious, and very flexible to make in terms of ingredients.
You can follow the same instructions and variations described above for the rice and tuna salad, but serve it with pasta instead. Have half a bell pepper and some radishes? Chop and toss them in for added crunch.
A vinegar and oil dressing on the tuna instead of mayonnaise makes a delicious quick pasta salad too, with elbow, bowtie, or wagon wheel macaroni.
Potatoes, Eggs, and Oven-Roasted Vegetables
Potatoes are an all-time favorite, as are sweet potatoes. And again, chances are that you have a few in the cool dark of your pantry, or in the produce bin in the fridge.
You can slice them up and bake them with salt and olive oil drizzled on top until they are nice and crunchy, or make mashed white or sweet potatoes with roasted garlic.
Oven-roasted hash browns also pair well with scrambled or fried eggs. Or you can make a frittata with whatever cheeses and veggies you have on hand, to serve with a few pieces of toast.
Breakfast for dinner is one of the quickest and easiest options out there. So throw convention out the window, and serve up those pancakes or biscuits that you’ve been craving! French toast or omelets work well for a simple weeknight dinner as well.
Veggies can also be the stars of the show. If you have a zucchini in the fridge, roast it in the same way as you would make the potatoes, with a little sea salt and olive oil. The same thing goes for carrots, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower – any vegetable will do, and roasting brings out the delicious sweetness of the vegetables.
Intrigued by all this? Check out our post on roasted root veggies here.
Sometimes I just take whatever vegetables I have, slice them, throw them into a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, peeled garlic cloves, sea salt, and olive oil. Bake until golden and the garlic is caramelized.
You can even toss some grated cheese on top if you have it. Don’t forget the freshly ground pepper!
A quick Asian-style stir fry can also be made simply with a little garlic and ginger, to serve atop rice. Fried rice with veggies and meats is quick and easy to make, as well.
Try our stir-fried lemon chicken quinoa bowls with a medley of fresh veggies like zucchini, carrots and broccoli!
Steamed veggies atop rice make another tasty option.
Quick, Simple, and Hassle-Free
With all of these simple ideas that you can utilize in your own kitchen to make meals without leaving the house, it’s time to treat yourself to a nice relaxing day.
Though home cooking enthusiasts often love the planning involved in making special dishes for a lovely meal, and the care with which ingredients are selected and prepared, there are always those nights, mornings, or even lunchtimes when something complicated just won’t do.
So clean out those cabinets (maybe even give them a good scrub while you’re at it), and make something wonderful!
What’s your favorite creative and simple solution when you just can’t make it to the grocery store? Share your favorites in the comments below!
Photo credits: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing contributed by Allison Sidhu.
About Lori Jo Hendrix
Lori was born in southern California and currently resides in Mexico. She is an actress and model who also writes in the fields of nutrition, wellness, and cuisine. Her passions include working as a volunteer with various groups in the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured animals.