When I started cooking daily the main focus was keeping down costs. I gravitated from frozen meals to fresher and fresher ingredients. I also switched around which dishes I used as a sort of default "got to go shopping, but can't till X days from now," with work schedule and school usually being the main complications. But, cooking around a busy schedule has taught me some tricks.
I learned that Farmer's Markets are generally cheaper than grocery stores (at least here in Northern California) and that their choices are refreshingly varied, all year round. When I started out on my own I cooked a lot of Italian dishes. This was partially because pasta cooks up easy, quick and is always delicious, and partly because the very first cookbook my parents bought me was an Italian cookbook. I livened up my sauces with fresh bell pepper, green onions, mushrooms and canned olives. Still, the cuisine ended up repetitive and boring. I tried fresh garlic and basil, spinach and artichoke hearts; but other than slowly acquainting myself with a more diverse knowledge of cooking vegetables, my enthusiasm for dinner dwindled.
It was time for something new. I have been experimenting with Asian cuisine for the past year, and broadening my recipe repertoire. Meanwhile, I have sought to make my yummy meals ever more quickly with the aim to eat healthy and delicious meals, but be able to maintain cooking and eating so no matter what sort of time my schedule allows me for the preparation and eating, I will always be able to appease my taste buds.
The first step is to always know what sort of week you have ahead of you before your trip to the store. I know I can't make Eggplant Parmesan or Lasagna on a night that I get home at 5 pm and have to be at a meeting at 7 pm. So I have the makings of several "easy" meals stashed away to pull something together in that eventuality.
For me these dishes are: Couscous Salad, quessedillas, wraps or a pasta dish. I can put any of these together in under a half hour and on some days under 15 minutes. I vary the ingredients so I don't get bored repeating these dishes.
Simple Stir-Fry, Enchiladas, and Pizza are my fall-back dishes when I have the time for something that might take a little longer but I don't quite have the energy to try something new.
These are the first dishes I will deatail, before describing the new - often more time-consuming meals - I have come to enjoy.