I’m loving this wave of modern momming that tends toward the minimalist movement. It speaks to my heart by creating a space and a life that makes room for and prioritizes what’s important. Intentional family time has always been my priority, even more so as our society leans ever increasingly towards the ‘busy’. So often, though, the minimalist gurus focus primarily on physical spaces. They encourage folks to get rid of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in an effort to save time, money, and space. The concept of minimalist meal planning, though, is rarely (or ever) mentioned in this trend towards ‘rightsizing’.
And, I get it (not really!) because, on the outset, it appears to just be a task. But really, when done right, and in its simplest form, meal planning is just a system. And, like any other system (cleaning, decluttering, or doing laundry) it can be overcomplicated or ignored completely, either of which may result in enormous amounts of stress.
In the mom world, there’s actually one more hot commodity besides time, money, and space. And it’s….brainpower. I most often refer to it as ‘bandwidth.’ As in, ‘I’m so sorry I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on xyz responsibility.’ Really it’s just the finite decision-making capabilities that we all have. Think about it. Once 7pm hits in your home, how capable are you of even entertaining the idea of making another decision?
Two weeks ago, my husband asked me at 8pm where I wanted to go to dinner in 5 days. It was a date night, for goodness sake, something I couldn’t have been more excited about, BUT…my brain was shot. I cried uncle and let him know I just couldn’t even *THINK* about it that day.
So, the beauty of focusing on a system like meal planning when choosing to minimize is that every step of it, all the planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking holds the potential to save time, money, space, AND brainpower. Forget the trifecta. That is a quadruple motherload. So, how would one adopt a more minimalist approach to meal planning?
Know and embrace the end goal.
What’s the end game here? My goal is to get a well-rounded meal on the table so that my family and I can gather together and have a soft space to land at the end of our time away from one another. Sounds woo-woo, I know. But, dinner is the most important meal of my day, so we sit around the table most every night. It’s expected, and most nights, it’s a place of joy and memory making. Whenever I’m faced with a decision that can cost me time or brainpower, I stay focused on my end game and can usually choose the simplest route.
Just this weekend, I was at the store and looked at the salmon that was a bit overpriced. For a minute, I considered going to another store where it would have been cheaper. But, getting the best deal possible is further down my list of priorities than quickly and efficiently shopping so I can get on with my day. Now, if getting the best deal was my priority, I could have gone to the other store. OR, in true minimalist meal planning fashion, I could have just pivoted and chosen a different fish at the same store…saving time AND money. But girl….I wanted that salmon! If you’re aware of your intention with meal planning, some of the lesser important details that suck your time and energy won’t complicate the process.
Don’t hoard recipes, whether on paper or online.
This goes back to keeping only what you’ll use. So often, we keep hundreds of recipes that we never work into our ‘system’ so we end up never using them. Instead, clean out your recipe box, your Pinterest boards, and your digital meal planning app. Clear the clutter. What you’ll be left with are recipes and meal ideas that you will actually use and that will help speed up your process.
Then, keep those recipes in one place. If you have a combination of digital and paper versions, keep each of them in just one place. Keep all the junk and you’ll spend precious minutes sifting through the magazine tear-outs and Pinterest boards without ever making a plan that works for you.
Buy only what you need.
A while back, we quit Costco and it was a game changer, for sure. We saved a ton of money that we had been spending all in the name of getting a great deal. It opened up some white space in our home when shelves weren’t overflowing with paper towels, peanut butter, and large boxes of applesauce. And, we freed up time to have real weekend experiences with our family, rather than sampling the aisles like we were at a food and wine festival, minus the wine.
Now, as a family of four, we don’t have the same needs that a family of six might have. So, for some, a membership to a warehouse store might make total sense. Even then, you can embrace minimalist meal planning by being intentional with your purchases and only buying what you’ll realistically use up in a week or so.
Become a ninja at repurposing leftovers.
This is one of my superpowers when it comes to minimalist meal planning. And, I advocate for repurposing leftovers not just because it keeps you from wasting food. In fact, I think it’s one of the best ways to decrease use of that hot commodity, brainpower. If you can plan ahead and make enough for two dinners, that’s one less day you’ll have to officially ‘PLAN’ for and one less day you’ll have to cook from scratch.
When we cook large pieces of meat, like a pork butt, we have it as BBQ one night, rice bowls the next and then I freeze the remaining for a third and fourth use sometime later. When I go to meal plan in two weeks, I already have 1 meal prepped and cooked. SCORE!
Keep your ‘system’ in one, well thought out place.
System…girl?? What system? I know, many people don’t give enough credit to meal planning systems. But…the SYSTEM includes meal planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and repurposing leftovers. So, if you have your recipes in one place, a shopping list in another, and prep lists somewhere else, then you run a big risk of losing one piece and throwing in the towel altogether. Consider an app that can keep all of these things together. Or, go old school and keep 1 or 2 binders together in the kitchen, so that they’re always available with a running shopping list nearby.
Whichever tips you choose to implement on your quest toward minimalist meal planning, do so in the name of gaining time and bandwidth. The simpler you can make your meal planning system, the more likely you are to stick with it. And, when you have a system in place that works FOR you, you no longer spend your days wondering what’s for dinner. And that, my friend, is a great feeling.
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