Meals, Simplified

meals, simplified: spicy thai noodles
thai peanut noodles
It's probably safe to say that most of us complicate this meal-business a little too much. When Jesus teaches us to ask for our daily bread, I tend to believe He literally meant daily bread. Not five course meals that require hours of weekly planning and triple that in shopping and preparing.

Alright, so none of us actually makes five course meals. Then what are we all so grumpy about anyway? Maybe it's just me, but as I look around I see others struggling with meals too. Either we realize we're not eating healthy enough, or we have the plan but "don't have time" to cook, or any number of other meal-time problems.

While I love meal-planning, my lil picky-eaters often make the whole process less than desirable. So when I get to this place of stressing and struggling over meals, I remind myself to take it back a notch.

I don't need a whole month-long meal plan that ensures we have brand new meals every week. We'll be just fine if we repeat meals each week. And as nice as it sounds, I really will survive grocery-shopping every week (instead of the once-a-month dream I have).

One thing that has stuck out from a few documentaries I've seen (Forks Over Knives and Happy to name a couple), is that meals don't have to be complicated to be good, healthy and serve the purpose of a meal. Other remote and happy cultures teach me that meals can be simple, and they can be repeated. And we'll be better for it.

Eating simply has all sorts of benefits...

It teaches us gratitude and contentment.
It gives us predictability.
It lightens my load as meal-planner, grocery-shopper and cook.
It helps us think more about others.
It reduces waste.
It's healthy.
It's picky-eater friendly.
And the list goes on.

meals, simplified: veggie pita pizzas
pita pizzas

Here are a few ways to simplify meals...

1. Keep the recipes simple.

Isn't it fun to drool over beautiful pictures of food and clip the recipes for later attempting in our own kitchens? The cooking often doesn't happen because the recipe takes too long or has too many ingredients. Instead, intentionally collect healthy recipes with few ingredients that you'll likely enjoy and will make again and again. While I love this vegan enchilada recipe, this vegan tomato basil cream pasta is a lot quicker and easier with less ingredients.

Stone Soup and Vegan Stoner are two blogs I enjoy with notoriously simple recipes from few ingredients (think: 5 or less).

2. Use leftovers.

Ugh, are we done hearing about how we need to use leftovers? No! Not until we all start actually using our leftovers. If you're going to take the time to slow cook beans, make a month's supply that can then be frozen and easily thawed for burritos, tacos, chili, etc. If you're going to make a pasta dish, double the recipe and save some for later this week or for a meal next week. Have a leftover day on the weekend when the meal is whatever can be pulled together from the week's leftovers. You get the idea. Use 'em up!

3. Make sandwiches.

Seriously, they're a meal. Use quality whole grain bread (preferably something without corn syrup and with "stone ground whole wheat" as the first ingredient--you might have to work your way up to this if your family is still on Iron Kids bread; or do they even make that anymore?), use fresh veggies, serve with a side of carrots or wheat thins and hummus, or even blend up a smoothie and you've got a simple, quick and delicious meal more nutritious than anything from a box that takes 20 minutes to cook.

simplifying meals // bean and veggie tacos

4. Repeat the basics.

Since when were we expected to find hundreds of recipes to cycle through? Sit down and write up a quick week's menu. Nothing that requires browsing Pinterest or your recipe cards. (Does our new generation of moms have those? I don't.)

Just sit down with a pen and paper and write 5 go-to no-recipe-needed meals.

For us this is: pasta and sauce with a veggie, bean and veggie tacos, yellow curry and veggies over rice, chilli and cornbread, and breakfast for dinner. Add two more if you need to include the weekend: pizza (or pita pizzas), popcorn and smoothies for Saturday night and veggie burgers with homemade fries for Sunday night.


And that, my friends, is our go-to weekly meal plan that keeps us eating semi-healthy meals without too much prep or planning, and approved by my picky-eaters. Sure, we sometimes like (even need) variety. But these basics serve as our "daily bread" just fine.

5. Simplify your food rules.

Depending on which diet we choose to follow (anyone jump on the "new" Paleo trend?), our food and the rules for eating it tend to change. But we could all benefit from simplifying these "rules" in efforts to stick with them. My favorite source for doing so comes from Michael Pollan author of In Defense of Food. He sums it up in three statements: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Simple enough, right? His book goes into more detail about what constitutes "food" (that highly processed stuff with 27 ingredients, 26 of which you can't even pronounce likely isn't actually food), and he even published a pocket manual of sorts called Food Rules to help break it down. Check 'em out. He doesn't push eating mostly meat or going vegan or any other diet trend; he shares more simple ideas that can help us all eat better.

Next time you feel guilty about not planning five-course meals or having the same thing again, go ahead and remember some village in China eats rice for supper every. single. day and they're better off than most Americans.

Repeat wisely, and your simple meals just might be the best thing you could do for your family.


also see:
new? start here...
simplicity, simplified series
lemon spaghetti recipe
grow your life