Which is the very reason I meal plan. Continuing with the topic, I'm going to suppose that the beginning meal planner has kept a food diary and knows his/her tastes. The next thing to do is research. What you want to know is how to flavor the dishes you want to make. There are 3 types of cuisines we eat in my house:
All forms are intensely Americanized...no avoiding it. I'm white :P But I <3 learning traditional recipes...even if they degenerate into Americanized-whatevers as I become comfortable cooking the dishes. However, my neccesities are my oil and herbs and honey...and garlic....
So this (plus Mirin and Sherry, which I think are missing from this pick) are my essentials. These are what my meals start and end with. In differing quantities and mixtures, these oils, herbs, etc bring flavor to my meals.
My suggestion to the beginner is to choose a lot of recipes you like which require a selection of the same seasonings. Keep those seasonings on hand and develop techniques that use them to their full effect.
The next repertoire to build is based on your favorite (or edible) veggies/meats. Yes, this can be determined in part by budgeting. An example of our favorite dish this summer has been Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad.
First, you need the veggies:
The artichoke hearts and olives came in cans, most of the rest was fresh.
Pesto came in a bottle, but if you have time and fresh ingredients Helen's Basil and Parsley Pesto would be a good addition :P
I used frozen chicken which I defrosted/slightly cooked in the microwave, cut into bite-sized pieces, then added to a pan that included: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I cooked the mixture until the chicken was brown with the vinegar and flaky.
The eggplant and mushrooms were cooked separately in a similar mixture. The eggplant is done when browned by the seasonings and soft.
When done the veggies and chicken look like this:
The salad is made by either
a) tossing the chicken with pesto
b) adding a portion of chicken, veggies and noodles (we use wheat noodles) together and tossing with pesto.
Or the same mixture can be added to a simple batter:
made from flour, water, an egg and a touch of salt. Cooked like a pancake and then with the mixture added:
You get chicken pesto crepes.
So the veggies and chicken (stored separately) can be made in large enough quantities to be eaten in different meals for 3 days.
This is why establishing precisely what you eat is important. If you love olives or tomatoes, you can create multiple dishes that use the same veggies in different ways. The seasonings will also be used differently.
What are your favorite vegetables? Have favorite ways of cooking them?