It’s nearly that dreaded time of year again: PCS season. It’s a time of year full of purging and cleaning walls, with bright colored number stickers and a lingering smell of cardboard and brown tape. A time of learning about new grocery stores, paying housing deposits, and filing the damage report for your grandmother’s antique buffet (thanks movers). Somehow, in the middle of all of this chaos, with a gazillion moving parts, we’re supposed to feed ourselves, nay, worse, we have to feed our families. Just when it seems like every single part of my brain is used to the max, and I generally have nothing left for trivial daily tasks like meals or matching socks, someone asks me, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”. So, here are some of my favorite shortcuts to help simplify dinner so you can keep doing all the dang things.
1. The low prep meal. Whether this is a favorite casserole that can be made in a foil pan, a meal kit from the grocery store, or a dressed-up pasta salad, keep this meal in your rotation during these crazy times. The key here is simplicity. No one needs a homemade marinara with 16 spices, Karen, the jarred sauce will do just fine here. Think of some of your family’s favorite meals- the ones you like making & everyone eats well- and write them in a “note” on your phone for reference. Heck, take a picture of the recipe & ingredients at this point. My favorite: Veggie & noodle kits from Kroger brand. These are found in the produce aisle for around $5 and will feed our family of 5 if I add in some fresh rotisserie chicken. To prepare it, you simply need cooking oil and a large skillet. Add a bagged salad on the side and you have a full feast. Winner.
2. The sandwich/wrap meal. It doesn’t matter what kind of meal this one is: peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, black bean quesadillas, buffalo chicken wraps- any kind of quick assembled meal that’s handheld as a sandwich or wrap is going to make your life easier. For this meal, aim for foods that will help fill your bellies so you’re not answering the question, “Can I have a snack?” again in 17 minutes. To fill up bellies, make sure you’re including protein, fiber, and a fruit or veggie. This is why a sandwich is an easy solution. My favorite: BBQ chicken cheddar wrap. Use a burrito size tortilla, add a row of diced chicken to the middle in a line. Drizzle the remnants of your favorite BBQ sauce from the fridge, the last of the shredded cheese, and add a few tomato slices and lettuce scraps from that bagged salad. Roll & eat cold or quickly toast on a panini press or indoor grill. Easy, filling, and delicious.
3. The one-pan meal. There’s nothing quite like trying to make dinner in an extended stay hotel or a luxurious TLF. A one-pan meal will be your friend here. Again, aim for simplicity with your ingredients and cooking utensils. My favorite: Roasted sausage & veggies. This dinner needs minimal work. Buy your favorite link sausages (like the chicken apple sausages from Costco), then slice diagonally into pieces that will cook up quickly. Put in a large bowl (or that giant pot in the TLF), then add prepped vegetables like the bag of chopped broccoli & carrots. I like to add halved baby potatoes. Next, stir up all the ingredients with a drizzle of olive oil then spread out over a flat cooking sheet. Season to taste with the salt and pepper you found in the cabinet, and roast at 400°F for about 20-30 minutes. Serve with as much ketchup as the kids want, as long as they eat it.
4. The takeout hybrid meal. It’s reality, you’re going to get food on the go. Here’s how to balance it out so you don’t feel sluggish and full of fried food at every meal. After bringing home your takeout of choice, add an easy prep fruit or vegetable on the side for a hybrid dinner. Bag of baby carrots? Apple slices? Veggie tray with that good ranch? You get to choose here. The point is to balance out your take-out food with some quality nutrition to keep your body from feeling like a garbage can. No one wants to drive 8 hours with a belly full of bubble guts in a van full of 3 whining kids and a farting dog (if you know, you know). Our favorite: Pizza with fresh fruit & bagged salad. Pizza is always a winner for us. We have a 2-piece limit, then we force everyone to put some of the “good stuff” too before more pizza. Bagged salad and fresh-cut fruit are our easiest produce grabs on the go and are well-liked by our crew. No fighting, no whining, and everyone gets a meal they enjoy. Can’t go wrong.
5. The no-cook meal. Call it charcuterie, a snack board, or fancy Lunchables. There’s something to be said for putting meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and spreads out and calling it a meal. No cooking, no making plates, just a big tray of food served with a “come and get it!” This is a great way to clear out those pantry and fridge odds and ends or to serve dinner in the 110°F blistering heat of Moab, Utah in June. Our favorite: We follow a general pattern of 2-3 of each of these items: protein/meats, cheeses, veggies, fruits, grains, and favorite spreads. Choose a variety of flavors and textures, and lay them all out with layering and keeping similar colors or shapes separate. This will create a picture-perfect display that feels easy.
As you enter PCS season, whether it’s your turn to be on the move or not, give yourself lots of grace. These meal ideas apply when you arrive in your new location as well. Spend your brain space learning to get to the grocery store without your GPS, taking the car in for that weird noise it started making at mile 438, and finding friends for the kids to play with. You’ll get into a routine again in no time, so for now intentionally choose to simplify, be intentional, and try to find the good in this nomadic life of adventure we live.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Visit our blog page to read other similar articles.