Welcome 2013!

Whatever lies ahead this year, one thing is for certain: there will be 365 dinners.

And I’m cooking most of them. Counting in breakfast and lunch, we’re talking 1,095 meals.

Cooking isn’t the problem. I like to cook and I love food. I like to read about food, watch cooking shows, talk about food, and cook for family and friends. Superfoods gained a foothold in our kitchen as soon as the girls decided to became vegetarian, and at this point, there’s no question in any of our minds that a Kale Smoothie is far superior to a Vanilla Malt.

Here’s the problem:  The planning. The shopping. The coordination. The time. Night after night. Many dinners around here arrive to the table as some form of Plan B or C on account of the fact that we’re out of a key ingredient of what was in my head when I was thinking about dinner around four or five.

Of course, I could plan better, and sometimes I actually do, but usually not. More often, I find myself winging it and even though I’ve gotten good at coming up with some tasty combinations on the fly, this year, we are talking big picture.

Here’s the plan: Decide on a fixed number of ingredients—a total of 100, including staples, spices and lots of superfoods—and keep the kitchen stocked with them. Before grocery shopping, just review The List against what’s on the shelves and in the fridge, and replenish as needed.

Knowing that we’re generally stocked with what’s on The List, I’ll always know what I have to work with.

The List allows for endless variations, and somehow, knowledge that the framework is fixed is sparking a lot of ideas. This is the year for thinking inside the box and it’s actually very liberating. No more guilt about the three Japanese eggplant that seemed like a good idea at the time and were later unearthed squishy and slimy from the back of the crisper. No more discoveries that we actually have three blocks of cream cheese or four bags of carrots, and no more pre-heating the oven and unrolling a pie crust for a quiche only to discover that there’s only one egg in the house.

This is the year for getting a grip and getting real about dinner as a night-after-night kind of deal. It’s the year for knowing what to shop for, knowing what’s on hand, and eliminating anxiety about what to cook for dinner. And it’s also the year for sparing land animals from ending up on our plates and enjoying as a result, much better — and tastier —  options.