Frozen Inspiration

by Rhiana Graves

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Have you finally got into the habit of making a menu plan for the week and you've hit a week where you've run out of ideas? You're stressed, you have holiday burnout and you just can't think of what to make with your penne pasta next week. Or your daughter's been begging for baked potatoes, but you need to think of an entree that will satisfy your husband too. Take the stress out of menu planning and visit the frozen food aisle for inspiration. Market research teams spend thousands, perhaps even millions of dollars determining the most appealing food combinations to the average consumer. They know you better than you know yourself.

How does marinated pot roast with vegetable gravy, seasoned green beans and roasted potatoes sound? Or maybe veal parmigiana with marinara sauce with a side of spaghetti and a vegetable medley sounds good? My favorite is baked chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Of course, you're not going to buy these meals in the market. You're going to write down the appealing ones and make a list. Then take it one step further and get prepared to mix and match. First, I make a list of the entrees and side dishes. Make a three column list either buy hand or on the computer. Part of my list looks like this:

Baked Chicken Breast
Beef Stroganoff
Chicken Parmigiana
Meat Loaf in Gravy
Roasted Pork

Mashed Potatoes
Mixed Vegetables
Roasted Potatoes
Stuffing and Gravy

Cheddar Potato Bake
Corn Soufflé
Potatoes Au Gratin
Creamed Spinach
Garlic Toast

Keep adding to this list whenever you see new ideas in the grocery store and then refer to this list when menu planning. To do this, simply mix and match by taking one item from each column. For instance, on Monday, you could have meat loaf in gravy, mashed potatoes and corn soufflé. Another day you could have roasted pork, stuffing and gravy, and creamed spinach. You can generally find recipes for any of the menu ideas you get in the store by doing a search on the Internet. My favorite site is Just put in Beef Stroganoff to get a score of recipe ideas. Then print them out when you decide to make them and file them in a folder with your three-column food list. After several visits to the frozen food aisles, you should have multitudes of menu ideas. Save time by doubling the recipes, making twice as much as you need, then freeze the leftovers in divided Tupperware. You'll have your own frozen dinners for all of those nights you don't feel like cooking.

Rhiana Graves lives with her husband in San Jose, CA. She is also a freelance writer for several websites and ezines. She can be contacted at

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