How Do You "Throw Together A Meal?"

Welcome to Advice for Impatient Foodies, R29's new cooking column. Each week, our executive food editor and Impatient Foodie founder, Elettra Wiedemann, will tackle any and all questions you might have about food. Seriously, no query is too big or too small. And don't be embarrassed! We've all had moments in the kitchen when we had no idea WTF was going on and wished we could ask someone other than Google for some pointers. So whether you need help frying an egg, knowing when your chicken is done, or deciding what to make for dinner, we've got your back.
I would love to know how to "throw together a meal." This is my struggle. I always end up coming home with peanut butter, asparagus, eggs, and trail mix and nothing I can make a meal out of.
Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux.
One thing I notice from the list of ingredients in your question is that some are part of a meal and some are part of a snack. For example, asparagus can be cooked or peeled into ribbons to make a raw salad (maybe with a poached egg on top? Yum!), whereas trail mix and peanut butter are things I would associate more with snacking. As you shop, ask yourself, "Is this item part of a meal or is this a snack?" I think that will help you to be more aware of the puzzle pieces you are putting in your shopping basket. So if you love asparagus, be sure to buy a compliment to it like salmon, or some kind of grain, or both and — ta-da!! — you have the building blocks of a great meal!

Additionally, for those of us who are super busy or are new to the kitchen, I think a great way to get in the habit and build your confidence of "throwing together a meal" is to make use of your grocery store’s prepared food section. For example, a simple grocery list of eggs, feta cheese (or whatever cheese you love), a pre-made rotisserie chicken, some prepared lentil salad, a loaf of bread, salad, and raw spinach can create a lot of meal options for the week:

- A spinach and cheese omelette with salad on the side
- A big salad with hard boiled eggs and shredded roast chicken
- A lovely chicken sandwich
- Lentils and soft-boiled eggs
Finally, a well stocked pantry will go a long way toward helping you cook on the fly. And that doesn't have to be anything crazy. My essentials are extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mayo, canned Marzano tomatoes, dijon mustard, Maldon salt, chicken stock, vegetable stock, and pastas of various shapes. If I have a bunch of vegetables I have no idea what to do with, I'll boil them in stock and salt, and blitz them in a blender to make soup.

I can also sauté vegetables in delicious olive oil to make pasta primavera. Or if I just have canned tomatoes, olive oil, and pasta, that's a meal in itself! The vinegar, mustard, and mayo are useful when making salad dressings or a delicious sandwich.

Happy food shopping!

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