Energy is Everything // a minimalist meal plan

There isn’t much that drains my energy more than hitting 5 o’clock with hungry, tired kids and thinking “What am I going to make for dinner?”Minimalist Meal Plan -One Little Minute Blog (90 of 1)I’ve done lots of different types of meal planning in the past, and all of it has required the thought, creativity, and preparation of choosing new meals each week or month, and then bringing the plan plus an ingredient breakdown to the store so I didn’t forget anything. So, in recent months I’d inadvertently abandoned it and we’ve been treading water with eating out and last-second things like quesadillas or frozen ravioli. Once in a while I get it together to make something awesome, but mostly meals have been all over the board.

While exploring the idea of energy management, specifically eliminating unnecessary decisions, I thought I would try out a very minimalist meal plan to take the crazy out of dinnertime. I’ve lived in several foreign countries where meals rolled around like clockwork, with maybe only two or three different typical meals being eaten all the time. No one seemed to think it was odd to eat beans and tortillas on the daily in Mexico, or beef and pasta every day in Argentina. I wondered if a similar approach to minimizing variety would help keep me on schedule and reduce the thought, time, and energy around preparing meals.

My idea was to assign each day of the week a single “default meal.” The same seven meals every week. These would be the standard that I would always have groceries for, and could quickly and easily throw together. Then, if I found myself with a little extra creativity, energy, or desire, I could embellish a bit. But if not, we still ate a planned meal (instead of grilled cheese or cereal, you know?)

My apprehension about the simplicity of the plan was that we might tire quickly of eating the same dinners. I really love to cook, and I love food so much. But my reality is that at 5pm on weekdays, when I start thinking about preparing dinner just happens to be the exact time that my energy is low from the day, my kids are hungry and tired, and cooking doesn’t feel exciting or fun.

As it turns out, this approach to reducing my decision making regarding meals has been so successful! Not only has it reduced my energy spent devising what to cook, but also what to shop for, because my base grocery list is the same every week! I have felt more room to be inspired and add a twist to a meal some days. And others it has been like a safety net to just default to the basic meal. Not only that, but our grocery budget has been significantly reduced because I’m not buying random ingredients for new recipes every week, or throwing stuff into the cart that I might be able to use for something this week, without a plan ahead of time.

The specific meal plan I’m using might look a different from the one that would work for your family. I chose meals that my kids mostly eat well, that are simple to prepare, and that don’t require a recipe for me. Every day has a baseline meal, that is my automatic go-to, although of course it’s my life and I can change something if I feel like it in the minute. That’s what has been so great. I have a safety net meal, which I have often used, but because I don’t have to spend any energy creating the weekly plan over and over again, I have felt more creative energy to tweak something here or there as I want to!Minimalist Meal Plan-One Little Minute Blog

To create your own minimalist meal plan, think about which dinners are your family’s favorites that don’t take too much time and effort. Which do you prefer to cook? Which ones feel like home? This is all about simplifying, so keep it simple. Assign one meal to each day of the week, taking into account things like regular school, work, and activity schedules. Leave your least busy days with the more complicated of the meals, and if you love to cook like me, leave room for that creativity in the kitchen on weekends or days you have more energy.

Here’s my baseline minimalist meal plan:

“Meatball Monday”: spaghetti and meatballs, green salad, apple slices
Small adjustments might include subbing meatballs for sausage, adding veggies to the sauce, or switching fruit

“Taco Tuesday”: bacon, egg and cheese tacos, carrot sticks, salsa+guacamole with chips
Adjustments might include doing fish or meat tacos, or adding slaw

“Stirfry Wednesday”: veggie stir fry with rice, pineapple
Adjustments include adding meat or making a curry to put over rice, or switching up veggies or fruit

“Leftover Thursday”: leftovers or waffles with scrambled eggs
Adjustments include choosing a different breakfast for dinner

“Pizza Friday”: pick-up cheese pizza, green salad
Adjustments include homemaking the pizza, or adding fun ingredients

“Salmon Saturday”: Grilled salmon and veggies
Adjustments include switching the meat or fish that we grill

“Slow-Cooker Sunday”: slow cooked green chile pork, beans, cabbage slaw
A Sunday adjustment is to make whatever I feel like, but this is the default meal

We generally eat one or two vegetarian meals per week, and fish at least once. Each meal has fresh produce as a component.

Breakfast and lunch are also standardized. I have green smoothie for breakfast, while the kids eat oatmeal, toast, and a hard boiled egg. I eat a salad for lunch, and the kids eat a sandwich with veggies and applesauce.  And honestly, my kids eat a limited number of veggies and I know not to stress out too much about it. I try to consider our nutrition as a weekly or monthly endeavor rather than per meal.

We also usually go out to eat about once a week, and this way it doesn’t change our meals at all. We just skip the one night we’re out, and pick back up where we left off.

A couple of years (or kids) ago, I would have looked at this meal plan and thought it was crazy. I love to cook, eat a huge variety of meals, try new recipes, shop for fun ingredients, and experience the whole gamut of meal preparation. And I still do on some level, but with the other demands on my energy at this stage of my life, less is way more. The times that I feel excited about whipping up something amazing, I can! The rest of the time we will still eat well.

Having a baseline minimalist meal plan has been really amazing for me. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, but I feel so much less stressed out about meals. I’m not wasting any energy in deciding what to shop for or cook. I’ve been able to just do it. If I can remember what day it is, I can remember what to make for dinner! I’ve felt the opposite of restricted, I’ve felt liberated. My family is eating good, solid food (most) every night, and the meal making has started to become automatic. It’s awesome!

I continue to learn new ways to make life a little easier for myself. And at the time that any of these changes doesn’t work, then I can always change again! For now, though I’ve really felt so much freedom and happiness in creating schedules that automate most of my tasks and allow me to focus my time and energy on my creative endeavors, playing with  and teaching my kids, taking advantage of work opportunities, and improving in my life journey.

14 Comments

  1. Posted May 11, 2015 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I love this so much. I started doing something similar to where I had a theme for every night of the week that at least helped me narrow down my options for planning, but yeah, I think I could embrace more simplicity now. Thanks for all your insights into energy budgeting!

  2. Posted May 11, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I love this! I remember back when you used to cook these amazing, elaborate meals when Milo was a baby. I had 4 (pregnant with #5) kiddos and I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do that. I love to cook too, but it all goes within the time of life we are in, right?! As my kids have gotten older and more mature palette’s, I have been able to be way more adventurous in the kitchen. I love the idea of having simple, fresh, and healthy items on hand too. Especially for those nights where we have 5 soccer games to attend… 😉

    • Posted May 11, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      This will buy me unless I fix it… *palate’s

  3. Posted May 12, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve been meaning to set something like this up for ages but just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve tried all sorts of meal plans and techniques but I have a hunch this one will work the best for me, since with my personality I feel the most free when my choices are limited, and I thrive on simplicity. (Also, although I’m learning to appreciate cooking more as I age, it’s not something I naturally enjoy.)

    I think the biggest challenge for me will be coming up with the right meals, ones that are wholesome and real but that my family will actually eat. Anyway, thanks for your honesty because somehow by reading this I feel like it’s easier to go ahead and do it!

  4. Posted May 13, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    This is so clever! I really need to try this. I like to cook, but it’s gotten so exhausting thinking of meals to make, especially since my preference is vegetarian and my husband is a meat & potatoes guy! But maybe if I can come up with themed meals like this, it will take less energy to make meals we can both enjoy!

    • Posted May 15, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Oh my goodness! I could have left your comment. We were doing themed meals each week and that totally helped. Now just need to get back to it. And I love this idea of having a default meal each day.

  5. Posted May 17, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I love this! I feel like my mom must have used a similar method to keep us fed as kids. While it’s just my husband and I, this would certainly keep us from ordering food so much! Half the battle is coming up with something to cook. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. Posted May 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m a foodie but this makes so much sense to me. We loosely do this but I’m going to try to implement this for real. Loving this series!

  7. Katie
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    We’ve been using your meal idea for months and it’s been really great! No more complaints about dinners and no one even notices the repetition, they’re happy to have their favorites. Can you share your chili verde pork recipe or the link? 😄Thanks!

    • Miranda
      Posted August 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      I’m so glad Katie! I keep the pork really simple and brown a pork roast in olive oil, then add one onion, sliced thin to the oil, a tsp of garlic and cook until fragrant. Then put the pork loin, onion + garlic mixture in the slow cooker on low with 1 jar of salsa verde and 1 can of roasted green chiles. After 6-8 hours when it’s done and pulls apart I add salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste! xo

  8. Lee
    Posted August 9, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Such a great philosophy on saving your energy. I’m enjoying reading about your household tips. My kids are older (8 and 11), but one huge advantage with this is that I can teach them how to prepare our standard five meals so that they can help get dinner on the table when I’m frazzled and they learn that cooking really can be easy.

    • Annette
      Posted May 19, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

      Awesome! I think it’s great you’re teaching your kids to cook and they can help with dinner. Will definitely teach mine when they are older, they’re 4,3,2 now. And I can’t wait to try cooing the same meals each week. I know it will make life easier, at least in this season of my life.

  9. Meg
    Posted December 29, 2015 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad I read this… my husband has been asking for a meal routine for years. And I can immediately think of several meals we both love that would be easy and low cost to make. We’re going to discuss this tomorrow.

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