Meal non-planning: another approach to family dinners
We’ve been in the thick of the school year for a few weeks now, and even though school mornings often make me want to pull the sheet over my head and stay there forever, I would say that overall, we’re glad for the routine and the structure that the school year brings. It’s a needed and welcome change from the lazy, hazy days of summer.
But our life is busier than ever. Everything I wrote in my last post still holds true – there’s not much that’s simple for us these days. We value a life of simplicity, we work towards it in many ways, but life circumstances beyond our control are making the pursuit of simplicity an uphill battle. What’s a girl to do?
I still look for ways to simplify where I can. For us, one big area of simplification lately has been meal planning. Or, as I like to call it, meal non-planning. What do I mean by that?
Well, meal planning is one of those areas that easily gets over-complicated for me. I like the idea of it, but I often end up choosing recipes with too many ingredients, that are too fussy, too time-consuming – you get the idea.
For example: a casserole might sound easy, and I know my family will enjoy it, but if I have to pre-cook this and pre-cook that and chop a million things and put it all together and then I still have to bake it…nope. Not for this season of my life. No way.
And don’t even get me started on those recipes that call for 1/2 cup of chopped leeks, but you have to buy the whole bunch, and then the rest of them just rot away in your crisper drawer…I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about, right?
At the same time, we wanted to get back to some healthier eating habits – more veggies and more real, unprocessed foods. After a summer of too many chips, guacamole, and frozen margaritas, we needed a little kick in the pants.
So, lately we’ve been trying something new, and so far, it’s working out really well.
First of all, we re-joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture). And we chose one that delivers all the veggies straight to our front porch! Yay! That equals less time at the grocery store. (We even have the option to add staples such as eggs, bread, and meats. We haven’t tried too many of those extras yet, but we may.)
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t like the idea of a CSA because it makes meal planning difficult. And if you’re making lots of complicated recipes with very specific ingredients, then of course I can see why that would be true.
However, we are loving the assortment of veggies that arrives on our doorstep each week – the surprise element, the opportunity to try new foods, and the built-in accountability to eat seasonally and locally. But what are we eating alongside all those veggies?
Simple: we choose one or two of the veggies from the CSA box, and then we add a protein and cook it deliciously. That’s it. Our dinners are simple and fresh, fast and healthy. Really.
Here’s an example: our box this week contained, among other items, red potatoes and green beans. So, we simply boiled the potatoes, roasted the green beans with some garlic and coconut oil, and added a protein of cod fillets sautéed in butter in a cast-iron skillet.
It was delicious and easy. Add basic condiments such as parsley and salt and pepper, and you have a tasty and simple dinner.
Another example from last week: boiled corn on the cob from our CSA box, plus sliced tomatoes (from the box) sprinkled generously with salt and pepper, lettuce (also from the box) with dressing, and chicken sausages heated under the broiler.
Often, we only prepare one veggie with the protein. If we do that, we make sure it’s a green, not a starch. We add the starches when we’re feeling hungrier, have a little more time to cook, or want something a little fancier. And we usually try to cook enough food to make sure that my husband can take leftovers to work for lunch the next day, so adding a starch will often help stretch the meal to that end.
I know that for many of you who live farther north, the growing season will be over soon, but you could easily implement these same ideas with produce from your local grocer.
You could even use frozen veggies, if you’re nervous about them going bad before you eat them all up. But I recommend switching to fresh once you get into a rhythm – you’ll notice a big difference in the flavor and texture.
We still prepare the occasional fancy, complicated meal with lots of ingredients…but not on weeknights. Definitely not on weeknights. And usually not on Sunday nights either (those are most likely to be composed of leftovers, smoothies, and maybe some popcorn).
If meal planning has seemed daunting to you, or if you can’t figure out how to make it work in a simple and efficient manner, try the meal non-planning approach. Forget the long lists of complicated ingredients and the multi-step recipes.
Just pair a protein with a veggie or two, and let go of any guilt or stress when it comes to meal planning. Bon appétit!
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