Tag Archives: meal planning

Two-Week Minimalist Meal Plan

Have a poke around Pinterest or a scroll through YouTube and you’ll soon find that there are a million and a half ways to meal plan.

Today, I’d like to talk about just one of them. This rather minimalist approach to meal planning involves selecting “default meals” for each dinner of the week. That way, when the 5 o’clock, “I’m too tired to think about what’s for dinner rolls around,” you’re already sorted. And because rotating through JUST seven dinners can feel a bit limiting for some, I thought it might be fun to explore the possibilities of a TWO-WEEK minimalist meal plan.

A few breakfast, snack, and lunch options for each week. 14 dinners. Sounds easy enough right? There are plenty of opportunities for substitutions and mild modifications to keep things interesting. And the best part? If you’re out for the night and won’t be preparing dinner — just skip that night’s dinner. You can pick it back up the next time the day rolls around.

Here’s what I came up with…

Week One –

Breakfast

At home (think-weekends): Greek yogurt bowls with banana, berries, and granola

On the run (think-week days): Green smoothies or toast with nut butter and fruit

 

Lunch

At home: Black bean quesadillas with avocado and fruit

Packed: Salad in a jar with whole wheat crackers

 

Snacks

Ants on a log, veggies with hummus, and “energy” date balls

 

Dinner

Monday: Chili and cornbread

Tuesday: Deconstructed cabbage rolls and steamed broccoli

Wednesday: Roast chicken (or rotisserie) and root veggies

Thursday: Pasta and salad

Friday: Tacos (or taco bowl) and corn (or corn chips with guac)

Saturday: Soup and garlic bread and salad

Sunday: Breakfast for dinner

 

Dessert

Daily treat: a couple squares from a bar of dark chocolate

Special treat: Banana “nice” cream

 

Week Two-

Breakfast

At home: Pancakes

On the run: Egg cups with fruit or apple cinnamon steel cut oats

 

Lunch

At home: Chicken salad over greens with fruit

Packed: Leftovers

 

Snacks

Fruit, roasted chickpeas, air-popped popcorn

 

Dinner

Monday: Thai food

Tuesday: Hummus tuna melt and steamed broccoli

Wednesday: Buffalo chicken nuggets and sweet potato tots

Thursday: Steak and roasted potatoes

Friday: Black bean burgers and fries and kale salad

Saturday: Homemade pizza

Sunday: Shop the pantry/fridge and throw something together!

 

Dessert

Daily treat: a couple squares from a bar of dark chocolate

Special treat: chocolate chip cookies

The above is an example of a Two-Week Minimalist Meal Plan that would work for me and my family. To create your own, think about the types of dinners you turn to time and time again. Which do you enjoy cooking? Which ones taste delicious at the end of a busy day? Happy meal planning!

Do any of you meal plan? Would you consider this minimalist approach?

Advertisements

How to Eliminate Decision Fatigue and Get More Done

how to eliminate decision fatigue

As I mentioned in this post, I’m not very decisive. While I’m great at split-second decision making (think: barking orders during emergency situations or finding the best course of action when work events go awry), life’s more mundane questions, like what to eat for lunch or wear to a friend’s wedding, can leave me perplexed.

While I may consider myself an extreme case, I have a feeling I’m not alone. You may notice a few signs of decision fatigue in your own life as well. Perhaps you come home from a long day of work feeling completely exhausted. You can’t quite decide what to do so you sit on the couch watching TV instead of going to the gym. You have no idea what you want for dinner so you go get takeout instead of cooking. That’s decision fatigue! Whether sick of choosing or just overcome with options, your brain defaults to the easiest decision possible.

Over the years, I’ve figured out a few ways to cope with decision fatigue. I have found that organizing my life in a way that eliminates decisions is tantamount to increasing my productivity. You may find you’re the same…

decision fatigue food

When it comes to deciding what to eat, I’ve found that making these decisions “in bulk” is the best way to not succumb to restaurants in the 5 o’clock but no idea what to eat for dinner madness. Set aside time to make a meal plan each week. If you’re feeling extra on top of things then do a bit of meal prepping, too. You could go all out and package up 21 meals into neatly organized tupperwares or simply take a bit of time to get ahead. Wash and chop up produce. Cook a grain. Boil some eggs.

Check out this post to learn more about sticking to a certain theme for dinner each night of the week. This way, even when you slip, and find yourself with out a plan or anything prepped, you’ll at least know “It’s Thursday so we’re having stir-fry.” (Or whatever you selected.) Another approach you could try if that feels a bit too limiting is the 14-day dinner menu.

decision fatigue clothes

Another decision I must make on the daily (sometimes multiple times a day…UGH!) is what to wear. Ever notice how super successful folk tend to wear the same things all the time? They might be on to something! While I don’t plan on rocking jeans and a black turtleneck every day a la Steve Jobs, developing a capsule wardrobe is a great way to limit the scope of my options. Do a little closet experimentation and see if you can come up with a capsule that suits your lifestyle.

Another possibility is to organize your clothes based on when you would wear them. Dedicate a drawer to workout wear, a section of your closet to office apparel, another for running errands and weekends at home, and a dedicated place for more formal attire. Identify what you’ll be doing and then head to the corresponding area to grab your outfit.

If buying and trying lots of clothes and keeping up with fashion trends is something that’s important to you, consider coming up with some outfit equations or cheat sheets that may work to speed up your getting dressed process. Then you can put together different combos like skirt + cardigan + tights + boots + boho earrings + scarf lickety-split!

Conversely, if choosing which items of clothing to add to your wardrobe is contributing to your decision fatigue, consider looking into services like Stitch Fix. I LOVE Stitch Fix because I don’t have to stand in a store and ruffle through racks trying to decide what to buy! They simply send me 5 items of clothing they think I’ll love, based on my style surveys and Pinterest boards, and then I either keep them or I don’t. I’ve also eased my clothes decisions by choosing to focus on building this 50 piece capsule wardrobe.

decision fatigue planning

If you suffer from decision fatigue I HIGHLY recommend you start keeping some sort of a notebook or planner system. Spend some time with this little guy every night before you go to bed. Write down all the things you’d like to accomplish the next day. Before I found a notebook system that worked for me I would start each day with my mind SO FULL of all the things that needed to get done. I would repeat them over and over and re-order them in terms of importance and then repeat them again. Basically, struggling to decide when to do what. Take it from me, just write it down. I can still work out the order the next day, and migrate things that don’t get done, but having that rough sketch the night before saves me so much brain space.

decision fatigue finances

This one may seem pretty obvious but I think it’s worth mentioning. Set up direct deposit so you don’t have to decide a good time to take your paycheck to the bank. Work out an amount you feel comfortable allocating for savings and schedule automated transfers from your checking account to a savings account. This way you won’t have to decide (as often) when and how much to set aside. Switch things like utilities, internet, and cell phone bills over to autopay so you don’t have to decide when to pay what bill and whether to mail a check or pay online. Easy peasy!

decision fatigue schedule 2

Instead of saying, “I’d like to explore my city more” or “I need to exercise” or “I want to spend time with my friends” and having to DECIDE when in your busy life you’re going to do these things…make COMMITMENTS. Set your priorities and then schedule your priorities. Learning to do this was a HUGE first step for me in investing in myself. Set up a recurring movie night each week with your friends. Declare #adventuresaturday and explore something new with your sweetheart (See picture above!). Set Monday, Wednesday, Friday as your workout days. Invest in your hobbies for an hour each day after dinner. Wanna grow your side hustle? Head to a coffee shop every Sunday, put your phone on airplane mode, and dig in.

Keep up a routine for long enough and it will soon develop into a habit. And you know what that means? It no longer took any thought. No decisions, no fatigue, no brain space.

Just life lived.

Do you suffer from decision fatigue? Have you made any lifestyle changes to limit the amount of decisions you have to make? I want to hear about them! 

Ballin’ on a Budget–Ditch the Bare Cupboards & Empty Refrigerator

I’ll admit it…with the craziness of the holiday season I totally didn’t keep up with this series in December. But I’m back on the horse for January! Today, I’d like to continue with a series that highlights easy strategies for BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET. Each month, I’m going to propose something for all of us to ditch in order to free up some line items on our budgets with values that can go to more practical expenditures like paying down on debt and saving for special occasions. (You can catch up on past suggestions HERE.) Whether you’re actively pinching pennies or simply want to re-direct some of those pennies to better serve you, this series is for you! So, let’s get started…

forks

When you’re trying to save money, or simply don’t have much money, any kind of spending can be difficult.

But here’s the thing…you’ve gotta eat. Like…to SURVIVE.

Back in my mega-broke years I repeated this re-assuring refrain to myself (“YOU’VE GOTTA EAT”) as a mantra of sorts.

You can tell yourself you’ll save money by staying home on Sunday instead of carting yourself to the grocery store and stocking up with food for the busy week ahead. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you pick up drive-thru fast food on the way home from work every night. You can tell yourself you don’t need to bring a snack with you because you’ll only be gone a few hours. But, “You’ve gotta eat.” So you  splurge on an over-priced granola bar. You tell your friends you can’t afford to go out to a restaurant with them and head home to the lone can of soup hanging out in your pantry. But that doesn’t fill you up and *say it with me now* “You’ve gotta eat.” So you catch up with those same friends at a bar and proceed to order appetizers galore!

All of these scenarios can be avoided with a little planning and a weekly trip to the grocery. If the check-out line has you meeting your edge as you listen to the beep-beep-beep of your bank account depleting, DON’T. PANIC. Just gently remind yourself, “I have to eat, damnit!” It is WAY better to do it on your own terms and stick to a budget. So, the next elimination you can make in your journey towards getting financially fit is to ditch the bare cupboards and empty refrigerator. 

Now I know this can be a hard habit to kick. Not only is there the cognitive dissonance with spending money in order to save money but planning ahead, studying sales, hitting the stores, and making your own meals takes brain space and time and practice. But if you give it a go, trust me, you’ll start falling into a routine. It will get easier. Heck, it might even become enjoyable. And you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank in no time.

Why not fill your fridge and cupboards with foods that makes sense? Food you love and food you are excited to cook?

Here are four easy steps to get you started…

Week 1. Brainstorm potential meals. 

Alright angels, this week you have it pretty easy! Grab three sheets of paper and set them out in front of you. Label them Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner and go to town with some listing. Consider all the dishes you know how to make off hand without a recipe. Jot those down on the appropriate sheets first. Think of all the meals you enjoy creating and write ’em down. Throwing a few ingredients together–like smoothies or sandwiches… Include those. List off the things you know you could throw together in ten minutes or less for those times you need to pack a lunch in a hurry. Brainstorm more elaborate items you might want to make when you have a long Sunday of sitting at home. These lists can be as long as you like (take the whole week to make sure you get everything down!) just make sure you’re considering these two questions–

  1. Do I enjoy eating this?
  2. Can I feasibly make this?

If the answer is yes to both then copy it on down!

Super pared down example to help you get the idea —

Breakfast – cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes with sausage, scrambled eggs with spinach and bacon, avocado toast, greek yogurt with fruit and granola

Lunch – salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado; grilled cheese and soup; pb&j with crackers and veggies/fruit; cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix; beans and rice; baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice; triscuits & cheese, grapes, pickles, and mixed nuts

Dinner – chili and cornbread; grilled salmon with grain and veggie; spaghetti and meatballs; your own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl; minestrone soup; black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob; chopped salad with a lean protein; homemade pizza and a side salad; breakfast for dinner; stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 2. Gather pantry staples. 

Now that you know what types of things you’ll be preparing in your kitchen, you can start building up your essentials. Take a look at your three lists. Are there any common denominators in terms of ingredients? Any staple item which is used in the creation of several of the meals on your lists?

From the list above I see a few pantry staples which may be worth considering keeping on hand all the time. Oats, eggs, pancake mix, crackers/trail mix/nuts, beans, rice/quinoa, cornbread mix, pasta, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes would be a good starting place.

Once you’ve added these common denominator ingredients to your pantry staple list, consider ingredients which may act as ENHANCERS for the meals you brainstormed. Just a few add-ons can go a long way in taking your food from boring and blah to delicious. Think: Olive oil and vinegar to make a quick and easy salad dressing or a spicy mustard to jazz up that cold cut wrap. Maybe you like your food with a kick so you throw in hot sauce and Cajun seasoning. Perhaps you like Teriyaki sauce for marinating or a sprinkle of cinnamon on your morning oats. You get the idea.

Purchase as many of these items as you can this week. If you can’t afford to grab the whole kit and kaboodle? That’s ok. You can start adding a few pantry staples to your repertoire each week you shop. And as you run out of these items, replace them.

pantry staples

Week 3. Make a meal plan. 

At this point you know what meals you can (and want) to make and you have some pantry staples on hand, time to take a stab at a little bit of handy-dandy planning! Take a glance at your calendar to first get an idea of what your week looks like. Are you super busy? Do you have any evening meetings or activities? Any meals already accounted for–like breakfast provided at a conference or a special birthday dinner planned with friends? Will you have time each morning to pack your lunch or do you need to do it the night before? Or even prepare them all on Sunday?

Once you’ve taken stock of all your weekly happenings and considerations, start pulling meal ideas from your brainstorm lists to create your weekly meal plan. Make sure to keep in mind the pantry staples you stocked up on last week in order to keep your grocery bill as low as possible.

Example from the brainstorm above–

Monday: B- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. L- PB&J with crackers and veggies. D- Chili and cornbread.

Tuesday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Leftover chili and cornbread.

Wednesday: B- Oatmeal. L- PB&J with crackers and fruit. D- Breakfast for dinner.

Thursday: B- Oatmeal. L- salad topped with lean protein, berries, and avocado. D- black bean burgers with sweet potato fries and corn on the cob

Friday: B- Oatmeal. L- cold cut wrap with yogurt and trail mix. D- Eat out for date night.

Saturday: B- avocado toast. L- baked potato (or sweet potato) with toppings of choice. D- minestrone soup.

Sunday: B-  pancakes with sausage. L- leftover minestrone soup. D- stir-fry pork and veggies with noodles/rice

Week 4. Hit the store and get cooking. 

This is the week to put all your planning into action. Start your week with a trip to the store to get all the items you’ll need to pull off that meal plan. Bring the plan with you or make a shopping list. Study the sales. Compare prices in the store. If you need fruits, go for the ones in season. Need veggies? Check fresh AND frozen. Grains? Look for which one is on sale or hit up the bulk bins.

Once you’re home with all your loot see what happens. Give your week’s worth of meals a go! If you experience hiccups along the way that’s ok. Figure out what you could do differently in the future. Practice makes perfect and finding a way to cheaply feed yourself with out a lot of fuss DEFINITELY takes practice. If you think it might help in your journey, take this week to jot down any thoughts, notes, or inspiration in a journal. Read through it when you sit down to make your next meal plan and KEEP GOING! You got this!!!

kitchen tools

Resources:

Week 1 —

31 Healthy Meals You Can Make in 10 Minutes or Less

Quick Dinners to Make at Home

Good and Cheap (PDF Cookbook)

8 Fast Dinners for Busy Runners

Week 2 —

Stock Your Kitchen: Pantry Staples

How to Stock a Healthy Pantry

Week 3 —

How I Cut My Grocery Bill by $1000 a Year

Memorize This Grocery List

How to Eat on a Shoestring Budget

FREE Weekly Meal Plan Printable

Week 4 —

Favorite Trader Joe’s Items

6 Ways We’re Keeping Our Grocery Budget Low

How to Maximize Your Saving With Coupons

How to Make 5 Week Day Dinners on a Sunday

An Entire Week’s Worth of Meals in 9 Easy Steps

Do you have your own tips or resources for keeping food in your pantry and home-cooked meals in your belly? Is this an area of your “spending diet” that you struggle with? Do you think following these weekly steps could help? Let’s chat in the comments below!

And tune in next month when we tackle GYM MEMBERSHIPS!

 

Eat well on $4 a day.

IMG_1173

IMG_1177

IMG_1178

Good and Cheap, the Kickstarter funded PDF which showcases how to eat well on ANY budget, is now available in book form! Leanne Brown created this collection of go-to recipes while pursuing a master’s in food studies and food policy from New York University. Brown believes, “everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.” Good and Cheap was created with many budget savvy folks in mind, but particularly those living on the U.S. food stamp budget of $4 a day. The book teaches you how to prepare dishes ranging from tomato soup to deconstructed cabbage rolls, gives handy tips for creative leftovers, and features gorgeous photography.

Kudos to Leanne for this amazing idea and for her  continued efforts to get a copy in the hands of those who may need it the most. I’m thrilled to have this reference handy! It’s become a favorite guide in my kitchen and a lovely book just to flip through for inspiration.

IMG_1181

Need even MORE of a reason to purchase?  For every copy bought, a free copy will be given to a person or family in need. Books are distributed through food charities and non-profits so that someone else can have a resource for making healthy and delicious food. Buy one. Give one. Pretty cool, right?

P.S. A meal plan I created using recipes from Good and Cheap and my thoughts on food culture.