Why I Won't Be Meal Planning This Summer (A Simplified Alternative To Meal Planning)

I've been meal planning for years.  As I've noted before, this is the technique that allowed us to pay off all of our non-essential debt (to clarify, not our mortgage - all credit card & auto debt).  So why in the world would I throw caution to the wind this summer?

Because I've figured out how to simplify meal time.  Why summer specifically?  Because that's when our garden is in abundance and I think it will be easier to give this a try.

Let me explain.

We eat pretty simply and rotate through the same 28 meal plans in the fall/winter and 25 meal plans in the spring/summer.  Every year I've simplified our meals just a tad bit more.  My goal is to spend less time cooking but still eat healthy.

Some of the changes I've made are:
  • Meal prep - make ahead or in some other way prep what I can.  
  • Use the same two grains throughout the week (cook once, eat all week).  
  • Soups can be made at the end of the week with leftover grain, veggie & protein leftovers 
  • Keep greens growing in the garden for quick salads (lunch or dinner options)
  • Veggies are roasted, steamed, grilled, or served raw rather than making "veggie dishes" that require recipes.  I prefer to eat veggies without anything else on them (sometimes a cilantro crema or a pesto sauce drizzled on top) and J has learned to appreciate them in this way as well (he prefers butter on his - butter on everything!).  
  • Breakfasts are typically oats (me), toast (me) or eggs & potatoes (J).
  • Lunches are typically salad (me), soup, quesadillas, leftovers, or homemade flatbread pizza.
  • We don't really snack other than sometimes fruit after lunch or popcorn or popsicles after dinner occasionally. 
  • I make bread weekly (if we want bread that week).  Usually one loaf - we don't eat much bread anymore.
So, how does this lead to not meal planning?
Veggies are the main portion of our lunches and dinners now.  It was recommended by one of my husband's specialists that he begin eating plant-based.  He immediately told me that will never happen, so instead we've compromised by him eating a larger portion of veggies and a smaller portion of meat and grains/potatoes.

If you grow your own veggies or eat seasonally with veggies purchased from a local farmer or farmer's market, you know that they are just not all available every week.  This makes planning that portion of your meals a little more difficult.  So, why plan any of it?

My non-meal plan is this: 
  • Oats + nuts/seeds + whatever fruit is in season = My Breakfast     (or toast with nut butter + fruit, or a smoothie with frozen fruit & veg)
  • Eggs (which we have available all of the time) + Potatoes = J's Breakfast (or a toasted bagel)
  • Greens + Other Veggies As Available + Leftover Meat = Lunch (salad, quesadillas, tacos, rice bowls, or flatbread pizza)  (or leftovers)
  • Large amount of whatever veggies are ready + small amount of protein (meat, fish, eggs, or beans) + small amount of grains/carb (bread, pasta, rice, tortilla or potatoes) = Dinner

I'll prepare whichever veggies are ready that day in the manner we want them at that time.

I'll purchase enough protein each week to allow us 7 days worth (beans are easy to keep on hand and J usually eats chicken, pork chops, pork tenderloin, burger, or flank steak in the summer).

Because we typically purchase our meat from local farmers, I'll purchase what they have available each Sunday and not worry about stocking up.  J prefers marinated meat on the grill, which makes it super easy to throw together a plan the day before.  I usually freeze the meat in the marinade on Sundays so I don't have to make marinades throughout the week.

I always keep rice, pasta, tortilla shells, dried beans, & potatoes on hand so we'll already have what we need to complete each meal.

If we want something different (pot sticker wrappers to make pot stickers, fresh pasta, or pierogies) then I'll buy or make it that week.

What About Grocery Shopping?
My new grocery lists are comprised mostly of any staples that we run out of more than anything else.  Our staples are listed below.

My pantry staples:
  • Sugar/Sweetener (honey, maple syrup, dates, & a small amount of white sugar)
  • Dry Beans (Black, White & Pinto)
  • Brown Basmati Rice (our preferred brown rice)
  • Pasta (2 kinds)
  • Veggie Broth
  • Chicken Broth
  • Tortilla Shells
  • Nut Butter (peanut and a walnut-cashew blend)
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Oats
  • Popcorn Kernels
  • Avocado Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Vinegars (Apple Cider, Vinegar, Pomegranate, Balsamic)
  • Extracts (Vanilla, Lemon, Almond)
  • Coffee
  • Tea
My refrigerator staples:
  • Mustard (Dijon & Spicy Brown)
  • Mayo
  • Coconut Aminos
  • Sriracha
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Flax Seeds
  • Milk
  • 1/2 & 1/2
  • Non-Dairy Creamer
  • Eggs (from the coop)
  • Butter
  • Cheese (Mozzarella & Cheddar)
  • Non-Dairy "Cheese" (Follow My Heart Pepperjack & Trader Joe's Shredded Mozzarella Blend)

My freezer staples:
  • Raw Walnuts & Cashews
  • Flours (White Bread, Almond & Einkorn)
  • Frozen Pizzas (our just-in-case go-to) (*side note: if you are looking for a good vegan/non-dairy pizza, Amy's Vegan Pizza is the best I've found.*)
  • Bananas (to add to smoothies)
  • Avocados (to add to smoothies or to make guacamole or veggie sushi with)

In The Garden:
  • Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Tomatoes
  • Beans
  • Sugar Snaps
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Winter Squash
  • Asparagus
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots
  • Herbs (cilantro, parsley, basil, tarragon, rosemary, dill, oregano, sage, mint & chives)
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Apples
  • Pears

All-in-all, my hope is that we'll be able to take full advantage of the goodies in the garden and center our eating around that.  It will (hopefully) also cut out any pre-planning or thoughts regarding meals, less time at the grocery store (I can stock up on staples once a month and the remainder comes from our garden and coop or from the farmer's market), and since the meals are simple, less time preparing them.

What about you?  Have you tried a simplified way of eating rather than meal planning?

1 comment

  1. It sounds like you are creating for yourself more time to do other things. Fabulous!

    We are basically doing the same thing, as the boys want to eat the same thing all the time. Less work for me! As time goes on, I streamline the system a bit more, like doing a sheet pan full of roasted veg each week with whatever is in season.

    Thanks for the tip about the pizza. I'll have to revisit that one.


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