My friend, Lauren, also wrote a great post on Meal Planning. She has some great Pinterest boards which can help you get started!
Planning also eliminates excess ingredients which also saves us big bucks. I can't handle wasting ingredients. Nothing gets thrown away in our house... ever. If vegetables have reached their peak, I chop them up and freeze them. If we have leftovers, those serve as lunches for the week. I actually found myself eating cold leftover pizza at work recently. I haven't done that since college. These days I try to keep our leftovers a little classier than that. Two people who used to loathe leftovers, have quickly learned to appreciate them :)
Anyways, back to saving ingredients. Tomato paste. I appreciate that is it sold in a smaller can, but most recipes still only call for a tablespoon or two. If you don't make recipes with tomato paste all week, you end up throwing the whole can away. Well, Iowa Girl Eats introduced me to this genius way to freeze leftover tomato paste.
Now back to planning. For those nights we don't have a plan, its great to have a few standby simple, tasty meals that we can throw together on the fly. This creamy tomato pasta fits in this category. It is so easy and I bet you already have the ingredients in your kitchen. If not, go get 'em for those hectic nights. It would be great with grilled chicken or shrimp. Feel free to play around with adding different veggies too. We loved it with the spinach and tomatoes -- sometimes the simplest ingredients work best!
Simple Tomato Spinach Pasta
Source: adapted from Budget Bytes
Yields: 4 servings
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) canned petite diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
pinch red pepper flakes
freshly cracked pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup water
2 Tablespoons half and half
¼ cup grated parmesan
½ pound whole wheat penne pasta
4 cups fresh spinach
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender (7-10) minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander.
While waiting for the pasta to cook, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Cook the onion in a large skillet with the olive oil over medium-low heat until softened and transparent (about 5 minutes); add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Add the diced tomatoes (with juices), oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and some freshly cracked pepper to the skillet with the onions and garlic. Stir to combine. Next add the tomato paste and a ½ cup of water to the skillet and stir until the tomato paste is dissolved into the sauce.
Turn the heat down to low. Stir in the half and half. Simmer on low for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Add the parmesan to the skillet and whisk until melted.
Stir in the fresh spinach and until it has wilted (3-5 minutes). Finally, add the pasta and stir until it is well coated in the tomato sauce. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Serve warm.