Meal Planning for People Who Hate Meal Planning

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Once a day at roughly five o clock I text my husband, “what are we doing for dinner?” and he texts back “I don’t know – what do you feel like?” and then I throw my head in my hands because we have failed again. I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that we’ve tried ALL OF THE THINGS. We’ve tried meal delivery services, weekly meal planning meetings, crowd sourcing ideas from friends, giving up and ordering takeout – you name it. What to eat for dinner has been a constant pain point for our busy family.

To add to the challenge, we have two very picky children, and since we don’t want to cook multiple meals we have limited options. As much as I love to plan and organize other aspects of my life, meal planning is an area where I get a big fat F.

I’ve preordered the new book Bare Minimum Dinners (by Jenna Helwig, the food director for Real Simple) which I’m pretty sure was written for me, but in the meantime I have devised a simple strategy that’s been getting us through.

Ready? Once a week, on Sunday, I go to the store and I pick out five proteins, five bases, and five veggies. We always stock basics like eggs, herbs, garlic, cheese, and seasonings, so this enables us to shop once and have five easy improvisational meals for the week – no planning required!

Here’s the basic idea:

Pick a Base

A base can consist of anything – a rice, a grain, a pasta, pizza dough, barley, lentils, corn tortillas, mixed greens, etc.

Add a Protein

We typically opt for lean animal proteins like chicken or salmon, but you can stock up on any proteins you like – beef, turkey, pork, tofu, tempeh, beans, quinoa, etc.

Eat Your Veggies

Our kids would rather skip the veggies altogether, but we’ve had good success with roasted cauliflower, crispy kale, or an assortment of root vegetables. We have incredible farmer’s markets in the Bay Area, so I love to grab an assortment of whatever is seasonal and fresh.

Put It Together

Jordan is a natural chef, so as long as I properly stock our fridge and pantry with these staples he can whip up a quick and delicious weeknight meal without a recipe. I’ve also been able to use these staples to create simple and tasty meals that feel easy to execute – fish tacos, fried rice bowls, and pasta with veggies are current favorites. The best part is shopping is a breeze and requires zero planning, and we can mix it up each week to create new and creative combinations.

Have you cracked the code on weeknight dinners? I’d love to know what’s working for you and your family!

Photography Credit: Vivian Johnson

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