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How We Simplified Meal Planning (Again)

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I’ve shared about meal planning a couple of times–once pre-baby, and once shortly after Charlie was born. I’ve also previously confessed my deep loyalty to following recipes and the fact that I’m a little lost in the kitchen without them. Well, friends, I’m proud to share that I’ve turned over a new leaf, because two of the biggest stressors in our family over the last year have been 1. Spending way more money than we want to on groceries, and 2. Finding ourselves completely unmotivated to make a “complicated” (anything involving multiple steps of prep) or time-consuming meal at the end of the day after putting Charlie to bed. Cooking used to be relaxing and fun for us, but now that we don’t even start thinking about dinner until after 7, we were getting so frustrated that things took a long time, we were hangry by the time we ate, and once we did dishes and cleaned up, we pretty much had to head to bed if we didn’t want to be miserable when Charlie graced us with his early wake-up calls. Clearly, something REALLY needed to change…and it has!

About two months ago, Dave and I sat down with a piece of paper and made two lists: simple main dishes and simple side dishes. Our meal planning now consists of us mixing and matching items from each list…and that’s it! The blessings of this new system have been wildly faster and more efficient prep, and much cheaper groceries since we’re buying 3-5 ingredients per recipe rather than 7-10. It seems so obvious now that it makes me laugh how long it took us to come up with this system :) Here are a few of our favorites from each list:

Main dishes

  • Grilled chicken with Greek seasoning
  • Grilled chicken with Spiedie marinade (an upstate NY staple that’s available in a few NC stores)
  • Cajun salmon
  • Pecan-honey salmon
  • Grilled pork tenderloin
  • Mandarin orange chicken (from the Trader Joe’s freezer section)
  • Pesto chicken
  • Burgers on the grill

Side dishes

  • Roasted brussels sprouts
  • Roasted broccoli
  • Grilled zucchini
  • Caprese salad
  • Spinach salad
  • Homemade sweet potato fries
  • Brown rice
  • Trader Joe’s multigrain blend with vegetables (from the freezer section)
  • Grilled corn on the cob

Tell me: do you cook this way, or do you stick to recipes? And if you have a favorite easy main or side we should add to our lists, I’d LOVE to hear it!

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  1. Sarah Shaneyfelt says:

    This is so smart! I’ve read about people making a list of main dishes to choose from but never the side dishes, too!
    MeetTheShaneyfelts

  2. This is a great idea! It’s kind of a joke how much I struggle with remembering/wanting to spend the time on sides. But this seems like a super practical way to make sure I have time to make a side!

  3. This is such a good plan! We prep proteins and veggies each week but could definitely step up our game a little in that department!

  4. Mary says:

    This is what we do! I almost always do two sides though. Some kind of potato/sweet potato (normally cut into fries and baked) and then some kind of roasted veggie and salad. I heard that almost any vegetable can be roasted at 425 for like 20-25 min (potatoes take longer). So I follow that! I’ve been limited because our stove is broken, but we have made it work with the slow cooker, oven and grill. :) your meals sound great!

  5. Molly says:

    I’ve started doing a sort of variation on this and it’s made my life easier. We started growing more herbs in our garden so I sort of use that to dictate our menu. Lots of rosemary? Then I plan dishes for the week like rosemary chicken, rosemary butternut squash, etc. It’s more about not be wasteful for us, but it’s also made my life easier. I don’t feel like I’m aimless at the grocery store! A plan also tends to save us money!

  6. Stephanie says:

    I love complicated recipes on the weekend, but weeknights must be easy with relatively quick prep time! We usually do variations of chicken/rice/veggies during the week. This easy recipe has been a staple for us these last few months and plenty of leftovers if we double it!

    http://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/one-pot-lemon-herb-chicken-rice/

  7. Okay wait I kind of love this! So easy peasy, and healthy!! My favorite part of this is caprese salad being a side dish, such a sweet nod to your honeymoon!

  8. Dana says:

    No tacos?? You’ve been out of Texas too long :)

  9. Katie Kirk says:

    Yep! This is our method and it works wonders :)

  10. Caroline says:

    This is almost exactly how we cook. We have an organic grocery delivery service which is seasonal so it shifts week to week with what they have available. While I love spending time cooking, I love even more simplified (minimalist?!) cooking during the week as I’m at home with a toddler.

  11. emma says:

    Have you considered putting Charlie to bed later? A lot of people think that babies have to go to bed early, but I disagree. My 12 month old goes to bed around 9 pm (and sometimes later because he is a night owl) and wakes around 7:30-8 am. He has NEVER woken at 5 or 6 like Charlie does. You probably like having a baby-free evening, but it might be more important to get a good 8 hours of sleep. Just a thought!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Emma! We have, but ironically, the later we put him to bed, the earlier he seems to wake up! The one thing that has successfully pushed his wake time back so far has been putting him to bed earlier. Just goes to show how different babies can be :)

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