My mom’s meatloaf is better than your mom’s meatloaf. Photo courtesy of interpunct. Licensed under CC BY-2.0.When you start cooking for yourself after living for a couple of semesters on dorm food, it’s as if heaven opened up and a chorus of angels is singing. You have freedom. You can cook whatever the freaking hell you want. You want a burger? Cook a burger! You want a gourmet quesadilla with cheese and chipotle sauce at 2:00 after you finished a term paper? You make that quesadilla! You want pancakes? For dinner? Cook pancakes and throw in some eggs for kicks.

It’s a time to experiment the cooking skills you inherited, and it’s pretty freaking awesome. However, after a few weeks of making every thing you can think of, you might realize that cooking actually requires a lot of planning ahead of time. Maybe you get out of class at 7:00 and you don’t have time to think of some crazy awesome meal. Maybe you’re in the middle of your hell week and you have no brain power to spend an hour making an elaborate dish.

The financial blog The Simple Dollar has a solution for on-the-go chefs– come up with a meal library. In this library, there are several reasonably healthy and inexpensive meals that you can prepare easily. For instance, my meal library includes meatloaf, chicken tacos, Bisquik chicken thighs, spaghetti and meatballs, and tuna melts. If I’m absolutely beat and have no energy, I know that I can come home, put my brain on autopilot and make one of these easy meals.

Having a meal library is good for several reasons. Firstly, you’ll actually have something to eat on those hellish days when your brain has quit working. Sure, you could just go out and grab something fast to eat, but that’s usually going to be unhealthy and expensive. It’s much better to prepare something yourself and have leftovers.

Secondly, if you know your meal library well enough, you know to pre-stock up on these items in bulk. This will save you time and money from always having to run to the grocery to get an ingredient that you need for a library meal. I always have a box of pasta, meatballs, and spaghetti sauce in my kitchen. 

Thirdly, by having several meals in this meal library, you won’t be stuck with the same dish over and over again whenever you have no energy. Sometimes when I’m tired I just pick up an already cooked chicken and make some pasta. Sometimes I make a tuna melt (open faced tuna sandwich with melted cheese). By having choices, I ensure that I don’t get tired of these backup plans.

To get your meal library started, think of three or four meals that you can prepare in under half an hour. If they run longer than that in preparation time, you’re not going to want to actually make them when you’re in a pinch for time. Make sure you know the exact way you like the meal so you’re not stressed about if you need to add more of one ingredient or another.

Meal libraries can work great if you live with multiple roommates as well. If you can work out a system where certain nights out of the week, one roommate cook a large, rather easy meal, it can help everyone out during weeks where stress is running high.

Do you like the idea of a meal library? What meals would you put in your meal library? Let us know in the comments!

[via The Simple Dollar]