Simplifying Sunday Series: Part IV
Happy Sunday, Friends! We are on chapter 3 of the book that inspired this series, Emily Ley’s Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living. I am thrilled to be digging into a part of life with you today that I think I already keep pretty simple. Maybe that’s not the case for you or maybe you just want to see how another mama works the process? Either way, let’s hash out simplifying meal planning [and everything that stems from it].
I’m sure whoever coined the term “meal planning” had no idea they would be inflicting one hundred tons of pressure on homemakers everywhere. When I was a kid meals were spontaneously decided and prepped [or at least it appeared that way], cereal from the pantry or a quick drive to the nearest Big Boy.
Today, meal-planning can unleash a domino effect on your health, budget and family so when someone cringes at the thought, let me be the first to say: I FEEL YOU.
4 years ago, I sat with two moms while 3 two-year-old boys played and our threesome of newborns slept. Among several conversations that had unfolded in this exact same scene over time, I unleashed a whopper of a confession: “I don’t cook”.
It’s not that I couldn’t, it’s that I wouldn’t. I had two kids all day and seriously felt like I had given enough to the family. My 2 year old was addicted to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, my newborn dependent on my milk supply and my husband could fend for his dang self.
Pushing for Progress
When I started working, a homemade dinner was out of the question but unfortunately, that greatly impacted our grocery bill and therefore our budget. While I was pregnant with our third, I prepped meals in the morning, my husband popped them in the oven and provided the finishing touches in order to get the meal on the table when we walked in the door at 6:00 p.m.
Everything that was leftover went in two containers: one for Taylor’s lunch the following day and one for the freezer for his lunches after baby #3 came [clearly setting the bar low for meal planning post-baby].
The Budget Effect
Once you see the impact of meal-planning on your budget, it’s hard to accept any other form of reality. Of course I would enjoy a night off from cooking, I’m not crazy. However, we’re in a season of life where eating at a restaurant induces a certain level of anxiety and speed so spending money in that category feels wasteful. When I am spent from a long day, we pivot and the kids have whatever fills their belly.
It’s a win–win. The most important part of dinner is not what we’re eating it’s who we’re eating with.
The Key[s] to Success
So what’s the key to simplifying this cringe-worthy, anxiety inducing, budget-proofing meal-planning thing? Oh gosh, you’re going to hate when I say it…it’s PREP.
Prep work is the key to keeping it simple. I prepare in a variety of ways:
- Pin possible meals to a Monthly Meal Plan board on Pinterest.
- Once a month [if I am on schedule] or twice a month, select the meals that fit our schedule and diet.
- We subscribe to a mostly-meat free diet which initially started after watching a documentary but has sustained because we’ve seen the benefits on our waistline and wallet.
- Outline the meals on my calendar, picking the recipes that work best for each day.
- Tuesdays are always Taco Tuesday, by request.
- Fridays are Family Pizza Night.
- Saturdays are often leftovers or sandwiches because mama deserves a day off dinner duty.
- I try to space pasta dishes out so we are not contantly carb-loading.
- Create a two-week shopping list & complete grocery shopping.
- Check the pantry first for items already on hand!
- I’ll touch more on my two-week grocery list in next week’s post about finances!
- Chop and freeze vegetables.
- Write out the weekly menu on our chalkboard.
- It looks cute, but I do it so Taylor can hop in and help if I’m not home yet.
- Screenshot the dinner recipe & pull it up when I get home from work.
- Start cooking every day after the bus stop.
- There will be a screaming infant attached to my leg throughout this whole process.
Repeat as Necessary
Y’all, it’s never perfect. Let me repeat: NEVER PERFECT. Sometimes the meals plum stink, sometimes no one except Taylor eats, sometimes there’s nothing leftover for the next day’s lunch, sometimes I abandon ship and we just starve. Just kidding, just checking if you’re paying attention. But yet, I continue to plan, cook, and repeat because meal-planning is what our current season of life calls for.
Sample Two-Week Menu
with links to recipes!
You didn’t think I’d leave you hangin’ right? Here’s a sample menu of tried and true favorite and family-friendly dinners.
- Sunday: Chili:[my favorite comes from Pip & Debby]
- Monday: One Pot Hummus:[Meat-Free Mondays c/o The Savory Vegan]
- Tuesday: Taco Tuesday!
- Any variation will do, but I keep it simple: black beans, corn, sauteed onions + taco mix. Serve with rice or burrito wraps. Add on salsa, cheese, and sour cream. Don’t forget the tortilla chips!
- Wednesday: Veggie Pot Pie: Budget Bytes is one of my top 3 recipe sites – I’ve made it with the homemade biscuits but now I throw down some Pillsbury [you know it’s offbrand] and call it a day].
- Thursday: Veggie Burgers: Prep these AMAZING burgers ahead of time, freeze and then “grill” and serve on some sweet hawaiin buns with a mayo+siracha+sweet thai chili sauce mixture. Thank me and Peas and Crayons later.
- Friday: Pizza Night: You do you, but we do homemade pizza because it’s so incredibly inexpensive to do.
- Buy pizza crust [I get 2 crusts for $3 at Aldi]. Brush with butter and garlic and pop it in the preheating oven for a few minutes. Saute onions, mushrooms or make brown sausage if you’re going the meatier route. Throw on some sauce [we do pesto on the parents due to allergies and red sauce on the kiddos]. Layer on your toppings. Throw on that Mozzarella and Parmesan. I top mine and Taylor’s with spinach and quartered cherry tomatoes. Pop them in the oven for 8-9 minutes. ENJOY. Tip free, flavorFULL.
- Saturday: You get a break! Enjoy your leftovers or demand a date night or take out!
- Sunday: MeatballZ and Spaghetti: Z is for Zucchini and these “meatballs” by Delish are the best. Only tip: give it your all when you are stripping the zucchini of moisture in step 1.
- Monday: Red Beans and Rice: Mondays mean Red Beans and Rice in the NOLA. We love A Pinch of Healthy’s recipe, but skip all the parts that call for meat.
- Tuesday: One Pot Mexican Casserole:Any variation on the taco works for Taco Tuesday and this one pot recipe by Making Thyme for Health won this mama over.
- Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner: This almost feels like a break because it’s too easy and the kids gobble all the sugary goodness up.
- We do waffles [from a mix], eggs and fruit and freeze any leftover waffles.
- If that’s not cutting it for you, here’s a German Pancake recipe from The Girl Inspired that I sub in from time to time.
- Thursday: Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Rigatoni: Tablespoon’s recipe makes this dinner easy as dump-and-go.
- Friday: you already know, Pizza Night: Order in. Buy it Frozen. Take-n-Bake [Aldi has my favorite take-n-bakes].
- Saturday: Leftovers/Date Night/Take-Out
What are you waiting for? Fill out your calendar, check your pantry inventory and get that grocery list started. Need a two-week grocery list? Sign up for Ooh La Laura emails and you’ll get one on the spot!
But Wait, There’s More!