I’m in the middle of a huge move right now, and let me tell you, moving is the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love change and I’m excited to be in a new place, but the process of packing, moving, living on couches and/or out of suitcases for weeks on end? Yuck. Fortunately a simple grocery list and a low-key plan for easy meals are my saving graces.
A little background: After eight years in New York City—five of those as a food editor and recipe developer—I decided to leave my full-time job, move to North Carolina, and go back to school to study nutrition. After a few weeks of crashing on a friend’s couch/floor, I’ve been living in various stages of limbo for the last few weeks, and even now that I’m in my new apartment, none of my stuff will arrive for at least another 10 days. To make this work, I brought all the essentials when I first drove down last month: a huge suitcase of clothes and shoes, a few duffel bags of toiletries and other miscellaneous essentials, and a small bag of basic kitchen equipment.
If you just had a ‘wait, WHAT?’ moment, you wouldn’t be the first, so let me explain. As someone who (a) loves to cook, (b) can’t afford to live off of takeout for a month (see: “I decided to leave my full-time job” above), and (c) thinks non-NYC grocery stores are basically heaven on earth, I knew I’d want to start using my new kitchen the second I moved in, well before my shipment arrived.
So, I packed the following kitchen items in a suitcase:
A cast-iron skillet, because it’s oven-safe and thus can be used for both stovetop cooking and roasting; a nonstick skillet, for the eggs that I knew I’d be eating at least once a day; a small pot, mostly for oatmeal but also for pasta or whatever else I might need to boil; a rubber spatula and a wooden spoon, for cooking; a half-cup measure, because it's the one I use basically constantly; a basic chef’s knife; some cutlery and a bowl, for eating. I own a lot of kitchen stuff, so I really couldn’t justify buying new “temporary” stuff when I got here. Aside from having to buy a cup and a cutting board, this bare-bones arsenal of kitchen equipment has been pretty damn effective.
Of course, the most important part of cooking and eating is having actual food on hand. Knowing that my kitchen situation was limiting and that I didn’t want to spend too much of my now-extra precious time or money on meals, I put together a very strategic shopping list for my first trip to the grocery store:
All of the items fell into one of two categories. There were the basic staples like olive oil, salt, pepper, butter, peanut butter (maybe not an essential for you, but for me p.b. is not negotiable), eggs, milk, bread, oats—stuff that I always have on hand. Then there were fruits, vegetables, meats, and more specific pantry items that I planned to base my week of meals on—the stuff that I buy at the grocery store every week, that varies based on the season and my mood.
The whole thing came out to just over $ 100, which is more than I spend on groceries on a regular week, but not bad considering all of the staples I won’t need to buy again for a while.
Here’s my grocery haul:
Bread and Grains
Whole-wheat English muffins
Whole-wheat sliced bread
Dairy, Meat, and Eggs
Beer (Hey, I'm only human.)
Olive oil Peanut butter
(Without the six-pack of IPA, the whole thing would actually have come in just under $ 100, but I don’t regret that impulse buy. The craft beer scene is great down here.)
The grocery list above is what worked for me. I’d recommend that anyone in a similar situation follow my lead in terms of basics like pantry staples, eggs, bread, milk, and cookable grains like oats, because these things are building blocks of simple meals. The other stuff, like produce, meat, and more specific supermarket staples like tomato sauce, hummus, and cheese, are things that you should choose based on what you like, what you think you’ll be able to use in a variety of meals, and what’s available or on sale.
With all of the above, here are some of the super quick meals I’ve been putting together:
Roast chicken on a bed of sweet potatoes, for dinner and mini meal prep
I threw this together as soon as I got home from the grocery store, knowing that it would make a great dinner, plus a ton of leftovers for easy meals throughout the week. All I did was cut three sweet potatoes into big pieces, seasoned a 3-pound chicken with plenty of salt and pepper (inside and out!) and roasted the whole thing in a 450-degree oven for just under an hour.
Oatmeal and iced coffee for breakfasts
Oatmeal is pretty unphotogenic to begin with, and the orange bowl certainly doesn’t make it better, but these simple bowls of oats cooked in milk with fruit (a banana on the left, frozen cherries on the right) and covered with drippy peanut butter were delicious, and exactly what I eat for breakfast most days even when my kitchen is fully stocked. Oh, and I’m not usually one to buy bottled iced coffee, but it’s been a lifesaver while I wait for my Nespresso coffeemaker to get here.
Eggs, toast, and sliced apples for breakfast or lunch
Since I’m home at lunchtime these days, I can take 5 minutes to cook eggs and toast bread. Sometimes the eggs have Parmesan melted on top, other times not. I ate these out of Tupperware because, while I remembered to bring a bowl, I forgot a plate.
Salads with roasted sweet potatoes and chicken, tomatoes, spring mix, and cheese for lunch
One chicken and three large sweet potatoes made a lot of food, so I was able to make this lunch several times. Here it is in the near-empty spring mix container, because as you may have noticed, I had to get pretty creative with serving vessels.
Various iterations of one-pan sauteed kale, reheated chicken and sweet potatoes, other veggies, and cheese for dinners
I used to eat a ton of “hot salads” like this one for dinner—greens, protein, other vegetables, and usually some kind of cheese all sauteed in a skillet, instead of just served cold—but I somehow got out of the habit. This week has been a nice reminder that there are plenty of different ways to cook the same few ingredients. In the bowl on the left, I poured on some tomato sauce near the end of cooking, which made the whole bowl taste totally different than the simple sauté on the right.
Pasta with broccoli, tomato sauce, and Parmesan for dinner
Another old staple that had fallen off my radar before this week, the combination of pasta + vegetable + sauce (optional, actually) + Parmesan is comforting and much more satisfying than you might think. It tastes a little better when you cook fresh broccoli instead of frozen, but I’m using frozen broccoli this week because it’s convenient and doesn’t make a mess on your cutting board (because it’s already cut and blanched).
Not pictured: Many Tupperwares of carrots and hummus or apples and peanut butter, for snacks
The meals have been simple, yes, but the fact that they’re both delicious and low-stress is why they’re so great in the midst of a big move.
Am I excited to cook more elaborate stuff in the near future? Sure. Am I currently in the mood to spend hours planning and cooking meals? Nope. Moving is stressful and time consuming, and my advice to anyone planning a big move is to head to the supermarket and buy what you need in order to put your meals on autopilot.