Why is it that we have to make so much food?! It's like the next meal comes 2.5 seconds after we cleaned up from the last one, and sometimes we're just too exhausted to even think about what to make to feed ourselves and our people.
In the summer, it's even harder. The house is too hot to run the oven for hours on end. We have plans to go to the neighbors' barbecue or our sister's grill out or that church picnic. There are so many things to do that we can hardly fix a sandwich for lunch around them.
How do we take care of ourselves and our families, make enough food in such limited time, and contribute to the food-centered get-togethers we have every weekend without going crazy?
We simplify. We pare down. We slow down.
1. PICK SOME EASY RECIPES
You don't have to get fancy or complicated. In fact, summer is the perfect time to stick to easy recipes because they allow the amazing, fresh summer foods to shine through.
There are so many ways to let summer produce shine through and get away without adding tons of other ingredients or having to use fancy, time-consuming methods to spice things up. Chop some fresh veggies and mix together a quick vinaigrette for an amazing salad. Cut up a bunch of seasonal fruit for a tasty fruit salad. Grill some veggie skewers when you're already firing up the grill for your chicken or burgers.
Some simple summer recipes I have my eyes on are:
Blueberry Muffin Overnight Oats from Fit Foodie Finds
Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes To Go by Chocolate Covered Katie
One Bowl Carrot Apple Muffins by Minimalist Baker
Flourless Chocolate Blender Muffins by Chocolate Covered Katie
Gluten-Free Vegan Breakfast Cookies by Minimalist Baker
5 Minute Veggie Sandwich with Hummus and Feta by Back to the Book Nutrition
Slow-Cooker Apple Cider Pulled Chicken Sandwiches for #WeekdaySupper from Cupcakes and Kale Chips
Simple Cucumber Salad with Lime Vinaigrette from Live Simply
Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad by Love and Lemons
Crockpot Garlic Herb Whole Chicken by The Frugal Girls
Grilled Mango Chicken with Strawberry Mango Salsa by Lexi's Clean Kitchen
Easy Roasted Lemon-Garlic Shrimp from Skinnytaste
Creamy Pineapple Cucumber Smoothie by Minimalist Baker
Tropical Acai Bowl by Cookie and Kate
Blackberry Lemon Ice Cream by Vegukate
Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies by Chocolate Covered Katie
The Best Paleo Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Ambitious Kitchen
Clean Blueberry Almond Crumble by Amy's Healthy Baking
2. STICK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
One great way to simplify your meal planning and cooking this summer is to stick with what you know. It eliminates the stress associated with trying to figure out the nuances of a new recipe-- rereading the instructions for the umpteenth time, forgetting to buy an essential ingredient, tweaking the process to suit your taste, realizing your oven cooks slower than theirs.
It's just easier to stick with tried-and-true recipes or slight variations of known dishes. You'll feel more confident. You'll be able to put things together faster. You'll stress less.
Got a perfect pasta salad to bring to picnics? Nobody will notice or mind if you bring it to all of them. Do you have a signature dessert? I'm sure everyone will actually love it if they get to taste it more than once this season. It's like an encore presentation!
I'm a big fan of repetition, whether it's exactly the same every time or just a little bit different. I personally like trying new recipes, but when I'm pressed for time or trying to simplify like I am in this season, I stick to what I know and slight variations on the theme. I might swap one herb for another or one seasonal veggie for another to mix things up, but the general recipe is the same.
Whether you're bringing food to a get-together, cooking for yourself, or making food for your family, you can rotate through a list of tried-and-true recipes. You can select your favorites (or crowd-pleasers or family-approved dishes) and create a few different weekly menus (more about that in step 3) to rotate through every so often. It's up to you if you want to have four menus or six or eight, but then you'd have a solid collection of not only recipes but weekly plans that include meals you already know how to make and know everyone will love! It takes the guessing out of it and relieves so much stress!
3. MAKE A PLAN FOR THE WEEK
Failing to plan is planning to fail, right? I grew up without much meal planning experience. We would try to come up with ideas for dinners for the week, but we still wove our way through every aisle of the grocery store asking each other, "What do you want this week? What sounds good?" I kid you not, it took us two hours to grocery shop. And we still felt like there was no food in the house when it came time to make dinner because we didn't shop with meals planned in mind.
Now that I'm cooking for myself and shopping for myself, I've changed the routine to one that works better for me. I meal plan every week, deciding what I want to make so I can eliminate that guesswork and stress. I get excited about cooking and trying new recipes, so I look forward to prepping those chia seed parfaits on Sundays and chicken fajita bowls on Tuesday.
And it feels like a big weight off my shoulders when I know I have all my meals accounted for because I know I won't have to worry about what to make for dinner (and whether I need to thaw chicken or soak chickpeas or cashews for hours before I can even start cooking). It saves me so much time and mental energy, which are then freed up for other things, like walks outside and time with friends and family!
Like I mentioned in step 2, you can create a few weekly meal plans you like and know, and then rotate through them to fill the month with recipe plans. Then you have more than a week planned, and you know the recipes are winners! It streamlines the process even further.
Want to start your own meal plan? I have a free printable you can use! It even has a page for your grocery list!
4. MAKE A GROCERY LIST
The easiest way to get frustrated and go overbudget with your grocery shopping is to not make a list in the first place.
Going shopping without a list is like trying to put IKEA furniture together without the instructions. Or like trying to buy an outfit for an unknown guest. You might get close, but you're not going to get it completely right, and it's going to take far longer and cause far more stress than is necessary.
If you do a quick inventory of what you have at home, you'll be able to put together a list of items you need in order to make the recipes you've earmarked for the week without the guesswork that happens when you're standing in the bread aisle and can't remember if you have hamburger buns at home or not, only to pick up another package and then find out you already have three bags of them at home.
Putting a list together ensures that you get all the things you need, and in the correct varieties and quantities. It also helps curb impulse buys because you have a list you can stick to and stay focused on. For that reason, it also helps save you time! You can zip around the store to get the things on your list without having to go down every single aisle and decide what you want for the week; you already know!
5. CONDENSE YOUR SHOPPING
I know people who go to the store whenever they need just two things. They'll just swing in on their way home from work and grab what they need. Inevitably, they end up picking up five more things (wouldn't we all?), and sometimes they still manage to forget the things they went to the store to get! Okay, so I've been this person. But I've adapted my shopping habits because it wasn't working for me. It took too much of my time, mental energy, and money because I was shopping so haphazardly.
Now I batch my errands. I look at my grocery list (see step 4), and based on what I need, I make the call about what store(s) I'm going to go to. I don't know what's available in your area or where you prefer to go, but Aldi is my #1 choice. They don't have everything because they're a rather small store, so sometimes I have to go to another store to get what I can't find at Aldi. And if I know that the vast majority of the items on my list for the week aren't going to be found at Aldi, I might elect to skip it and go directly to my second-choice store to save the time. But if I do go to more than one store, I plan it out so that I can go in one run, on just one day.
Batching my errands like this means I don't have to spend time running around to store after store every day of the week. It means I'm not tempted to buy impulse items day after day. It means I have more time on Thursday because I did all my shopping on Wednesday, and I can rest knowing I won't have to go again until next Wednesday.
Those are my best tips for simplifying your meal planning to save your sanity this summer (or in any season, really). Let me know which one resonated with you the most!
And if you're looking for more help simplifying your life, home, and/or business, let's chat! I'd love to hear from you!