A large part of living the minimalist lifestyle is getting rid of the junk in our lives. This certainly applies to what we eat along with the things we own and the things we invest our time in. There are many ways to make meal planning “simple” but most of the ways we think of are not healthy for us. Simple and quick in the meal planning world often ADDs junk into our lives rather than removes it. We may decide it’s easy to just eat out all the time. Or we may purchase lots of pre-made meals or boxed items. While these possibilities may indeed make meal planning simple, the junk it puts into our bodies and the money it takes from our wallets actually ties us up and compromises living life to the fullest.
I have some ideas to help make meal planning simple (yet delicious) and also nutritious and easy on the budget. You can incorporate one or two of the ideas into your life or you can try them all! If you don’t already plan meals ahead of time for the week, I’d highly recommend starting. It keeps us from buying random items and it saves us time when a meal comes around and we already know what we plan to make.
Here’s some ideas to simplify your meal plans:
Staple Meal: Have at least one staple meal that you and your family eat every week. For example, have tacos on Tuesday or home made pizza every Friday. When you get tired of the staple, just make a new staple! This makes one less meal you have to come up with while meal planning. Plus, once you’ve made it a few times you become faster at making it and that saves time!
Meals by Category: Eat the same meal type on the same day of the week, every week. For example, say you have a casserole every Monday, a stir-fry on Tuesday, Mexican on Wednesday, etc. Come up with your own categories that your family likes best. If you really love casseroles, have them on Monday AND Friday! This makes meal planning a breeze because you only have to think within these categories. Have a handful of favorites in each category that you rotate through, and add a new one every now and then.
Rice and Beans: Rice and beans are what a large portion of the world eats on a daily basis. Choosing to eat one simple meal like this a week is not only cheap and simple to make, but it gives us a healthy appreciation for the variety of foods we have available. Also, beans and rice form a complete protein and are very nutritious.
Food Pyramid Meals: Make some of your meals what I call “Food Pyramid Meals” where, instead of making a dish, you simply choose a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. This is so simple and very healthy. Here’s an example: Roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans.
Crockpot Meal: Pick a day of the week that you are generally short on time to get dinner prepared and make it that morning in the crockpot instead! Make this a weekly tradition.
Leftovers for Lunch: Here’s a way to remove planning from seven meals a week: eat leftovers from the night before for lunch the next day. All you have to do is plan your dinners and make sure you buy and prepare enough for your family to be able to eat it again for lunch the next day.
Dip Lunches: If you don’t like the leftovers for lunch idea, then keep lunch simple. Try doing veggies of different sorts with nutritious and protein filled dips such as hummus, guacamole, soft cheeses, or peanut butter. Add a piece of fruit, a chunk of cheese or some sweet potato or kale chips and make it a meal!
Alternate Breakfasts: Or eat the same one every day! I like to make myself a green smoothie every morning. It’s fast, nutritious, and yummy. But if you don’t like to eat the same thing day after day, try alternating between two healthy breakfast options. Have that smoothie one morning, and then have oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts the next morning. You can always change it up each week and alternate two different breakfasts the next week if you’d like. But only having one or two breakfast types per weeks makes planning and list making simple.
Now that I’ve given some ideas on how to make planning meals simpler, let’s also look at what we put into our grocery carts. As a general rule of thumb, try to shop along the outside walls of the grocery store rather than the aisle. For the most part, the aisles of a grocery store contain all the packaged food and the outside walls carry the produce section, meats, cheeses, milk, and eggs. I venture into the aisles to buy things like natural peanut butter, beans, and spices, but stay on the outside for most of my shopping. Try to buy whole foods as much as possible and processed foods as little as possible.
These are just a few examples of whole foods by category:
Proteins: Un-processed meats, beans, nut butters, seeds, dairy, eggs, tofu
Starches: Potatoes, rice, starchy vegetables, quinoa
Vegetables: Spinach, cabbage, carrots, green beans, bell peppers
Fruits: Apples, pears, grapes, melons, peaches, berries
Healthy Oils: Olive oil, Coconut oil
Seasonings: Fresh and dried herbs, spices, vinegars
Here are some tips for saving money at the grocery store:
Eat Vegetarian: Plant based proteins are generally much cheaper than animal based proteins. They are rich in nutrition. Even if you enjoy meat too much to drop it completely, you may want to try eating vegetarian at least once or twice a week. You will see a difference in your spending.
Buy “whole” and cut it up yourself: Whether you are buying chicken or carrots or cheese, buying items whole and cutting them up yourself will save you money. In reality, it does not take long to cut up a carrot or slice a piece of cheese. It’s easy labor that I’d rather do myself than pay someone else to do for me.
Plan meals based on what’s on sale that week: I like to price match and get all of the best deals around each week. But even if you don’t do that, take time to look at the ads for your grocery store and plan your meals that week around what’s on sale. If zucchini is on sale, plan a meal that incorporates it. Taking this little bit of time up front will save you a lot over time.
Planning for and preparing whole, nutritious food doesn’t have to be difficult. You will see how removing the “junk” from your meals and keeping foods simple will continue you forward on your journey towards health and freedom. Bon Appetit!