I have confessed in the past that I understand the virtues of planning meals ahead of time but that my execution is lackluster at best. Now that I'm back to work, I will admit that I am still uneven in this area, but I have found that the weeks where I plan ahead make all the difference in the world - especially for lunch.
What is it about lunch that makes or breaks things? I love eating out, but my bank account surely does not. Yet when I'm in a time crunch during the week, my creativity simply evaporates and I start to consider an ascetic lifestyle where maybe I don't have to cook so much.
But then, my wonderful friend Sonjmarie came over one day on maternity leave, cooked us a ton of food, and left it in our fridge. Both her company and the delectable meals she left behind were delightful. One of the things she prepared for us was baked ziti, which was both marvelous and flipped a light switch in my head - hey, why don't I make a pan of ziti over the weekend and either freeze it or bring it in for lunches during the week? And a cheap week's worth of meals was born!
The nice thing about baked ziti is that it super adaptable for both palates and wallets and continues to be super easy to make. For example, I love to make it with Daiya shreds, but Greg doesn't like any cheese (vegan or otherwise), so I leave it out of his portion. I also tend to use Beyond Meat lightly seasoned chicken, particularly because my local Whole Foods regularly offers $1 off coupons for it, but if you don't like that or it's a little expensive, simply use something like beans or veggie-based mock meat crumbles that's on sale - or nothing at all! I promise, it will still be delicious.
I apologize for the lack of pictures, but frankly, this is so easy to whip up and pull together, that I didn't want my lack of illustration to stop me from posting and slow down your own weekly meal planning. :)
1 pound of dried pasta
1 jar of tomato sauce (I like 365 Brand Roasted Red Pepper)
Approximately 14 oz of protein - optional (Beyond Meat chicken (diced), Gardein or Boca crumbles, or beans all work well)
One bag of shredded vegan cheese - optional (I like Daiya - you can be creative! Use mozzarella for a more traditional take or pepperjack for something spicy and fun)
1)Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2) Prepare pasta according to package directions.
3) Mix in jar of sauce and other mix ins if you prefer (add the protein and approximately half a bag of cheese)
4) Spray a 9x13 pan and pour in the pasta mixture.
5) Top with remaining cheese, if your prefer.
6) Bake for 20-25 minutes (until cheese and/or pasta starts to brown).
7) Serve and enjoy, or cool down and portion into containers for a week's worth of lunches!