One of the best things I have done in the last few years is order a Community Supported Agriculture box (CSA). It arrives full of fresh, plausibly local (read: no bananas) produce every other week, and it does the thinking for me.
I write down what I have on a whiteboard that is stuck to my fridge, wiping off items as they are used up. Right now it says "chard, yams, celery, onion, carrots, broccoli, spinach." So when it is time to work out the dinner plan, I first look at perishables. Great motivator -- eat it before the bacteria do.
I start to imagine my favorite ways of preparing these things, and first on my list is high heat (475-525 degrees) roasted cubed yams and slivered onions tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary (taken with permission from my neighbor's yard). Then I realize I haven't made noodles in a while, and run some dough through the pasta machine. Boil it up, butter it, add a little goat cheese and my roasted veggies, and maybe shred some spinach to be tossed and wilted in it at the last minute. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top and then nom nom nom.
I don't always get that elaborate. Sometimes dinner prep gets a little funky. Just two nights ago, I soaked and cooked beans without a goal in mind. I cast about for some way to season them, actually picked up my keys and walked half way to the car to just go to buy something, anything, but I couldn't do it.
I was not going to go and purchase something quick, throw away money and health and, most importantly, points for my ego which somehow, bizarrely, gets stroked by my being able to whip up something out of nothing. I put down my keys -- I'm admitting this right out there on the Internet -- added a left over half packet of taco seasoning to those beans, a paper cup of instant chipotle black bean soup, a few spices from the cabinet and a can of tomato paste. Voila: Sloppy Joes! The really funny thing was that the family ate it. And liked it. And told me to write down what I did so I can do it again. So much for all that fancy pants homemade pasta.
I know why people order takeout and eat out.
How on earth can you have kids and a job and not rely heavily on prefab? Since my work hours are flexible, I sneak off and get my kids from school and stop at the store during the work day. When do people with inflexible hours do this? They don't. They eat take out.
Because I have a family of five and everyone packs a lunch, I probably spend 20 hours a week just dealing with food. I feel pretty lucky that I get to join the group who is committed to eating in. For many people, this is pie in the sky. I would hope that children and eating could once again be part of the plan for most of us, but until then, my family and I live in relative luxury, even if our means are modest.