Note: This is a guest post written by Zoë Kim from The Minimalist Plate.
Simplifying your meals isn’t just about saving money, time, and reducing decision fatigue—although these are all great things. Simplifying our meals is about getting back to connecting. It’s about being intentional so you can give the best of you instead of what’s left of you.
I’m an Italian married to a Korean with four little Kortalian children. We’ll try most any food and variety is the spice of life in our home. From kimchee to Italian Ricotta pie, we eat it all! My family loves sharing food together and our kids enjoy many different things. Dried anchovies for breakfast? Sure, why not?
Growing up I spent a lot of time (and lived with) with my grandparents who made delicious meals using whole foods. My grandfather enjoyed cooking (he’s a much better cook than I) and made our meals from scratch. Marinara sauce, Italian Ricotta pie, and homemade raviolis using a hand-crank machine were a few of his specialties.
I enjoyed helping him in the kitchen and loved eating delicious food together. As I look back at these times shared over a meal, they’re some of my most cherished memories had with my grandparents.
They took the time to prepare food and they made time to eat it together. No rushing off to this or that. Things weren’t usually scheduled during dinner time. That was family time. Our time to sit down together, share a meal, and connect.
My grandmother lived for five more years after my grandpa. A few times a week she would share a meal with me or her friends. She enjoyed the simple things, the meaningful things, and was always seeking to connect.
Isn’t that all what we want, time to connect with those we love? Present over perfect at the end of each day?
If you too want to get back to simple, slow, and intentional meals all it takes is a little planning.
Here are 11 tips to get you started.
Check your expectations. Start out with a realistic approach to your meals. If you’re raising a small tribe like myself, complicated meals with hard to find ingredients may not be a good fit. Think about what kind of meals can meet your family’s needs in this season of life.
Cook in one pot. Choose meals that can be prepared in one pot. We have an instant pot that replaced our crock pot and rice cooker. It’s a pressure cooker that dramatically shortens the cooking time!
Some of our favorite go-to one pot meals are black bean soup, leek and potato soup, veggie tortilla soup, and budae jjigae. But you can make just about anything in this pot—even yogurt.
Find your favorite sauce. Rather than cooking multiple dishes to please the selective eaters, choose a sauce that can be added individually to meals. Choose a few that would compliment most meals you serve.
My husband and I love Sriracha sauce, hot sauce and gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste). We can make one meal that the kids will eat and add in a sauce to satisfy our taste buds.
Eat the same thing everyday. Eating the same thing for lunch may sound boring but it hasn’t bothered me one bit! Purchasing the same ingredients can save money and time. This allows more mental freedom when the everyday decisions of what to wear or what to eat are at their simplest.
Design themed dinners. Make it fun and get your family involved in choosing themed meals to go with the day of the week. We have taco Tuesday, fried rice Friday, and stew on Sunday. My kids enjoy cooking in the kitchen with me and this is one more fun way to get them involved while still keeping it simple.
Plan for four to five cooked meals. If you loath meal planning, (like I do!) start by planning just four to five simple meals instead of seven. Choose your most simple go-to recipes, write your ingredient list and buy only what is needed.
Batch cook. Batch cooking is preparing a larger quantity of food ahead of the time you intend to use it. Cooking entire meals or meal components (side-dish) in batches will save you time and effort during the week.
We like to batch cook roasted vegetables and use them for the next four to five days. They may be served as a stand alone side, added to quiche, or atop a bed of rice for bibimbap. The possibilities are endless.
Try a challenge. Courtney Carver at Be More With Less has a great challenge, The Capsule Kitchen Challenge! It’s 3 months. 33 ingredients. This is a challenge and experiment to see if limiting your food choices offers you health and lifestyle benefits. You can learn more and join the Facebook community right here.
Choose recipes with 10 or less ingredients. Flavorful meals don’t need 20 ingredients. Choose meals with fewer ingredients and you can keep less on hand. Dana at the Minimalist Baker is a favorite go-to for simple recipes. She creates easy meals cooked in one pot, prepared in 30 minutes with 10 ingredients or less.
Eat to thrive. I’m not a doctor or a dietician but I think we could all agree that processed food is unhealthy. Whatever is healthy and right for your body, make small steps to align your food consumption with that. Choose whole foods that help you feel well and avoid unhealthy ‘convenience food’ that can complicate your life (and health!) in other ways.
Make time to listen. I know dinners with little ones can be far from relaxing. But carve the time to listen to everyone at the table–even if it’s just for a minute. Invite them to share a favorite part of their day while they take turns listening and sharing.
If you’re eating most meals alone, take time to listen to yourself when you sit down to eat. Think about your favorite part of the day. Write it down in a thankful journal. When my husband was deployed in the military for months on end, this helped leave my heart feeling full and connected at the end of the day.
Every little step makes a difference. Changing our habits and routines can feel overwhelming and often times we end the day feeling like we’ve failed. Start small and make a little effort to plan your meals for just one week, and you’ll save time, money and avoid decision fatigue in the upcoming days. After you do it for one week, do it again for two weeks and so forth.
Habits don’t change overnight. But don’t let that discourage you. Start anyway. – Joshua Becker
I’ve found that simplifying our meals feels much like exercising or keeping a cleared counter. It feels hard in the beginning, but once you build the habit you wonder what took you so long to get started in the first place.
However you decide to simplify your meals, be consistent and intentional so that you can give the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.