My kids and I have long loved this book series by Laura Numeroff. You know, the books where giving that pig or mouse or dog a pancake, cookie, or a donut results in a whirlwind of other, seemingly unnecessary actions? A while back, I started to identify a bit with each of the main characters. And….not JUST because I like pancakes, cupcakes, parties and muffins. I realized my brain was operating a bit like each of the main character’s brains, especially when it came to dinnertime. YIKES. I found that I would often start thinking of one task and end up spiraling down a rabbit hole of other unrelated tasks before I ever completed the simple one that started it all. I had to figure out how to simplify dinner.
So, just to give you a glimpse of what that looks like, here’s a run through of all the things that used to go through my head with regard to one simple task of motherhood: keeping my children alive by feeding them. Please…don’t judge.
1. What will I feed my family?
I decide that we are having burgers for dinner. Great. But, what kind of beef should I get? And, why do these pickles have food dye in them? Argh. This store is out of organic lettuce and lettuce is SO CLOSE to being on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. Should I go somewhere else or just poison my family this one time?
Honestly, there’s so much noise about the safety and quality of the foods we eat. Consider how often we’re bombarded with info and scary ‘statistics’ about GMOs, organic v. conventional foods, gluten, sugar, buying local, eating clean, etc. There are articles and books and documentaries available from literally thousands of sources and it’s both overwhelming and unrealistic to do the legwork of vetting them. Who knows what information to believe in order to make accurate, healthy choices? I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t. I’m too busy sourcing our local, grass-fed, free range, non-antibiotic beef. Duh.
2. Where will I get our groceries?
Amazon Prime, Fresh, Pantry, Subscribe + Save or Now? Whoa–my head is swirling already. Maybe I should use a service like Door-to-Door organics, that delivers organic and all-natural products to my front porch? Or would it be better to buy 40lbs of meat through Zaycon? But why, when I can go to Fresh Market on Tuesdays and get chicken and ground chuck for $2.99/lb? Actually, I could get great meat anytime at Costco (in 5+ lb increments). You know what, it will be easier to order groceries online through Kroger ClickList or Walmart curbside pickup. Whatevs. I am SO busy that I can’t even go to the store or plan my meals. I’m going to order from Hello Fresh or Plated. Ahhh…I take all that back. Spring is here. I’ll just go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. OY.
Seriously. What in the actual hell?
3. I’d also like to save money because..HELLO? Extreme Couponing.
I mean, we’re on a budget, so I would love to save some cash. I should probably subscribe to the Sunday paper (do they print those anymore?) so I can get paper coupons. Wait. Actually, I can upload digital coupons onto my Kroger and Wegman’s card. Awesome. OH…I think I’ll try Ibotta (and look at the app before I head to the store and scan my groceries once I get home). Shoot, I need to check Cartwheel before I head to Target. Never mind. This is all too much. I’ll shop at Aldi…for most of my list.
4. Let’s consider HOW to feed them?
I’ve been thinking about eliminating snacks and feeding my picky eaters like French kids. Because, according to the book, they apparently eat everything. I’m also planning to spend 3 hours on a Sunday and batch cook for the week, which will make the week so much easier. I’m also prepping freezer meals this week, so having 10 of those plus 5 batch cooked meals will be a life saver for this 7-day week. Oh goodness, my little guy desperately needs more variety in his diet so I’m going to be sure to follow Dina’s approach in her book, It’s Not About the Broccoli (which HAS actually worked for us!).
Does any of this sound familiar? Please, tell me I’m not the only one.
So, how do we manage all the incoming information (and, we’re just talking about the info surrounding food here) and make reasonable choices without losing our minds? How do we remind ourselves that doing everything isn’t an option and that regardless of the decision we make, we are doing good work?
I purposefully seek out ways to tune it out.
That might be staying off Facebook (I totally missed the Starbucks unicorn drink thing which, by the way, looked super gross!), not watching the news, embracing the rare moments of quiet and only searching Pinterest intentionally. Whatever it takes. But, I’ve started filling my mind with thoughts that remind me that I am not just good ENOUGH, but that I am awesome (who wants to be just good ENOUGH??). I am finding ways to simplify our life so we can get back to enjoying and being present with each other.
Here’s an example of doing something that simplifies life. And no, it doesn’t involve spending hours decluttering, reorganizing the kitchen, or stocking up on meals like its December 31, 1999.
My BFF, who just transitioned out of corporate life and into stay-at-home momdom, texted me yesterday that she finally broke down and bought paper plates AND it was glorious. I, like her, switched to serving some meals on paper plates when I transitioned home because….good gravy…the dishes. So.many. But, if I’m being honest, I waited far longer than I should have because I know washing 50 dishes a day is better for the environment that using paper plates (maybe? I mean it does use up water and soap…which should probably be sulfate-free) and I worried that the weird coating would melt and be toxic in the microwave (and ugh…the microwave).
I also have a pretty solid system in place.
Systems are my life line. When mornings go haywire because the kids have their own way of ‘getting ready,’ when I have due dates for work, and when it’s birthday party season, my ‘systems’ keep this house from falling off the rails. My meal planning system is the most important of all because…HELLO!!! These little people eat 100 times a day!
So, I take 15 minutes each week, open up my meal planning binder (although I’m about to embrace technology and use Plan to Eat), and start with my already decided rotation of theme night categories. Then, I sift through our family’s weekly schedule to get an idea of what kind of time we’ll have available each night and pick the specific meals we’ll eat. I already have lists of our favorite meals, so I don’t need to think about meal ideas or hunt around for recipes. That part is done ahead of time so it keeps me from turning into that pig with his pancake.
So, you want to know how to simplify dinner in your home?
I’ll tell you what you don’t need to do. You don’t need to find ONE.MORE.RECIPE. You don’t need a year-long subscription for a meal plan service. Does it make sense to get a couple of months of meal plans to add some variety? Sure. But, those meal plans don’t take into account that Suzy Q has swim practice two nights a week, your hubs works late on Wednesdays, and you’re at church until bedtime on Thursday.
Keep it simple.
That’s my advice to you if you want to know how to simplify dinner. Use what you already have, put a simple system in place so that you can quickly access, and go spend your time on something more rewarding. Like…growing a garden with your family, or eating dinner on the back deck, or having a movie night. Go do those things.
And, if the idea of coming up with a simple meal planning system is appealing, but leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed, then let me help. ‘What the Fork is for Dinner?’ is my online course that guides you in tweaking what you’re already doing to make dinner a brighter part of your day. At least check it out to see if it might be a good fit.
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