What is one of the most stressful questions faced by busy moms? It’s that question that pops up at least once a day. It’s a question that, between planning, prepping, and actual completion, consumes hours of our week. Sometimes it’s easy to answer, and sometimes we’re at a complete loss. It can be a source of immense stress and a major drain on our (already-endangered) energy supply.
What is the question?
“What’s for dinner?”
I’m working my way through a series this month about tackling some of our most dreaded or tiring tasks, and today I want to focus on meal preparation.
More in the series:
I’ve talked about meal planning before — and if you haven’t already read my posts about why you should meal plan and how I approach my meal planning, I would encourage you to do so. And I’ve talked about how to feed your family well when you’re low on time and when you’re on a low budget.
But today I’m taking a slightly different angle. In this post, I’m going to give you a few ideas about how to simplify your meals to reduce the stress of mealtime. I’ve shown you that feeding your family well doesn’t require a lot of time and that it doesn’t require a lot of money. Now, I’m going to show you how it doesn’t have to require a lot of energy.
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WHY COOK SIMPLE MEALS?
Here’s something I’m learning — cooking delicious food doesn’t have to mean long hours or long ingredient lists. And here’s the big shocker — it doesn’t even require recipes!
You don’t have to prepare gourmet meals to feed your family well. I love to cook, and when Levon and I first got married, I spent hours in the kitchen trying new recipes and expanding my repertoire (mostly because it was in dire need of expansion!). But once we added a couple kiddos to the mix, that had to change.
I no longer have the time or the energy to cook elaborate meals. I still like to try new recipes and techniques, and whenever I have an opportunity for uninterrupted time to cook something fancy, I take it. But on most days during the week, I stick to simple, but delicious, meals. And yes, that combination is possible!
You don’t even need recipes, either. Sometimes it’s not the actual cooking of the meals that wears me out, but rather planning them all out. (Can I get an amen??) Leisurely poring through cookbooks and marking all the recipes I want to try is one of my favorite pastimes, but it’s a luxury these days. And trying to find a combination of recipes that is varied, healthy, frugal, and simple can be taxing. But learning how to put together simple meals that don’t require recipes is saving so much time and energy!
The greatest benefit of simple meals is that less time spent cooking and planning means more time for healthy meal prep. And that makes feeding my family a real food diet much more manageable.
5 EASY, SIMPLE MEAL IDEAS
To show you what I mean, here are five easy, simple meal ideas that don’t require recipes:
This has been my go-to dinner lately. It’s so simple, and it can go a hundred different ways. Basically, you just toss together a grain, a protein, and a veggie together in a bowl and season with salt & pepper or your favorite spices.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Burrito bowls — taco meat or beans mixed with rice or lentils, corn, avocado, shredded cheddar, and salsa
- Asian bowls — rice or Asian noodles; marinated chicken, pork, or beef; and sautéed veggies (basically, stir-fry in a bowl)
- Beans bowl — rice, beans of choice (pinto, kidney, black, etc.), and a veggie
- Breakfast bowl — rice or quinoa, fried or scrambled egg, roasted veggies, and avocado
- Basic bowl — rice, couscous, potatoes, or quinoa; sautéed chicken or pork pieces; roasted or sautéed veggies.
The really great thing about these bowl meals is that they lend themselves nicely to bulk preparation. You can prepare the base ingredients in bulk, and then mix-and-match or add different spices or toppings for a completely different meal.
For example, early in the week, I might make a BIG batch of rice in my 8 quart Instant Pot. I’ll use some of it that night for an Asian-style bowl and then some of it later in the week for a basic meat bowl.
Finally, bowl meals are also a great way to use up leftovers! Just throw together all those bits & pieces you have leftover from previous meals.
Marinated meat freezer packs
Making marinated freezer packs is really simple. Whenever you find chicken or pork at a good price, buy several pounds, cut it up, and portion it out into freezer bags of marinade. Then, stick it in the freezer for a quick dinner later.
On the day you need it, take it out and let it thaw in the fridge. Sauté for a few minutes, and then use on pasta, in a salad, as a warm sandwich, or in one of the “bowl” meals mentioned above.
Be sure to visit this post for some quick & simple marinade ideas!
Sheet Pan dinners
I discovered sheet pan dinners about a year ago, and I am in love with them! You can cook an entire meal on one sheet pan — how great is that?
Cut up some potatoes, veggies (green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, zucchini, etc.), and onion and spread on a sheet pan. You want them to be pretty close, but in a single layer.
Next, nestle some boneless, skinless chicken thighs amongst the veggies.
Drizzle generously with olive oil (and maybe balsamic vinegar if you’re feeling fancy) and sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper.
Roast in the oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes.
You can mix this up with whatever veggies you have on hand. Use sweet potatoes or white potatoes. Skip the onions if you want. This is a great dish to experiment with, so get creative!
This is a very close cousin to the sheet pan dinners, but it cooks on the stove rather than the oven. I make these a lot in the summer when it’s too hot to turn on the oven and we have an abundance of vegetables from the garden.
My favorite skillet dinner is as follows:
Apple Chicken Sausage (I get mine at ALDI), cut into quarters and then sliced (I also like to use ground pork sausage)
Chopped asparagus or zucchini
Grape or cherry tomatoes
Cook in a skillet on the stove. (This is my go-to skillet.)
Top with shredded cheese. Serve on rice or quinoa.
“Fancy” salads or sandwiches
Who says dinner can’t be a salad or sandwich? They don’t have to be boring. Put an interesting twist on a classic favorite, such as the time I made grilled cheese sandwiches with pepperoni pizza bread (Levon went NUTS over those). Or get creative with interesting ingredients, like roasted peppers, nuts and seeds, or fancy cheeses.
(Bonus tip: Every sandwich seems more special as a panini! 😉 )
And if you think salads are boring, you absolutely must stop what you’re doing and listen to The Lazy Genius Makes Salad. You will never look at or make a salad the same way again!
Figuring out what to feed our families can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! Sometimes we get in the mindset that our meals have to be fancy or complicated to be delicious, and that simply is not true. You can serve healthy, delicious meals that won’t break the bank, take all day, or drain your energy reserves.
And simplifying your meals means you can feed your family well AND have plenty of time leftover for the other important things in life.
I hope this post helped and that it gave you a few new ideas of what simple, healthy meals can look like. And before you go, I want to offer you a free “Meal-in-a-Bowl” cheat sheet. This is a basic framework of the perfect meal-in-a-bowl, and it contains the potential for over 600 unique simple meals!
Click on the link or the image below to get your cheat sheet!
Further Recommended Reading:
- 7 Simple Healthy Lunch Ideas for Moms
- 9 Secrets to Feeding Your Family Well (When You Don’t Have Time)
- How to Cook Real Food on a Budget
- My Favorite (and Easiest) Freezer Cooking Method