How to Simplify Meals in the New Year
Ah, January. There is such a clean slate that comes with January. It's true that there is no "best" time to begin a new habit or make a change in your life, anytime is a good time! However, the start of a new year just brings with it the sense of a fresh start. Things are quieter since the holidays are over, yet it's freezing outside so we spend a lot of time at home. This lends itself to contemplation, remembrance, decluttering our homes, and dreaming for the year ahead. I'm seeing these themes all over social media right now, and for good reason! This totally goes with the seasonal rhythm.
In January we take pause and ask "what's working and not working?" and "how can I make life more simple and joyful?" These are great questions to ask, and I have seen a ton of fruit in my own life as I have asked myself these questions over the years.
Research tells me that meal planning sits at the top of the list for women who need a fresh start in the cooking department. It seems the logical conclusion after a year of eating out way too much, going over budget, and possibly just feeling totally stressed about the whole cooking thing in general. Cooking can lead many of us to feelings of failure, and though I believe we need to find our ultimate identity in Christ alone, creating some systems and habits are key to seeing improvement in this area. Because of this, I want to share some tips from my arsenal of what it means to be a "seasonal meal planner" and share some actionable tips for you to implement into your own life.
1. Plan Seasonally
In order to see the greatest amount of fruit in this area, you need to get up above the ground and plan high up in the clouds. That way, when you get on the ground level of your life, the plans have already been set in place to allow you to flex when curve balls come your way: schedules change, kids get sick, or someone unexpectedly needs your care. When you meal plan seasonally, you plan ahead for ease in the day to day.
How to do it: Each season, make a list of 16-20 dinner recipes that your family loves. Keep that list visible somewhere in the kitchen so you can reference it as you make your weekly meal plan. Our Seasonal Meal Planner has these pages already available each season so you never run out of dinner ideas and always keep things fresh and exciting.
2. Monthly Challenge
Challenge yourself monthly with a new habit or practice in the kitchen that will either serve your family better, or bless someone else. Some examples include: bringing cookies to neighbors over the holidays (or just because!), caroling to widows during Christmas time, double recipes to put half in the freezer for another night, host a freezer cooking night with girlfriends, serve a meal to the homeless in your community, take a meal to a foster family in your community, try a new recipe once a week, etc.
How to do it: Put a reminder in your phone or in your planner to create a challenge for yourself that month. Our Seasonal Meal Planner prompts you every month to establish a monthly challenge, so we are never stagnant and always growing.
3. Check your Calendar
Doing this first will ensure that you plan the right meal for the right day depending on what’s going on in your life that day. Some days just call for a slow cooker meal and paper plates, can I get an amen?
How to do it: A kid's dance class, night classes, someone coming over for dinner, or even a theme like taco Tuesday or slow cooker night would all be examples of things that affect dinner time. When you make your weekly meal plan, take note of these things and write them down on whatever you use to plan your meals. Our weekly planning pages prompt you to check your calendar every week so you aren't late for football practice with the kids because of dinner, or starve because you had a late night and didn't make a plan for it.
4. Take Inventory
Have you ever gotten back from the grocery store and realized that you already had broccoli in the fridge crisper? Or went to make dinner and while grabbing all the ingredients, realized you're plum out of chicken broth? Yep, been there. This is why taking a quick inventory of your kitchen will help you tremendously when it comes to simplifying life in the kitchen and making meal times less stressful. This will also ensure less food waste and more savings in your budget!
How to do it: Look inside your fridge, freezer and pantry and take note of what you have on hand. You can use this list as inspiration to plan your meals for the upcoming week. Our weekly planning pages prompt me each week to take inventory of our kitchen. Now, I don't have to run to the store for a missing ingredient at 5 o'clock.
5. Incorporate Meal Prep
I think a lot of people when they hear meal prep think of body builders filling Tupperware with hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken and steamed broccoli, but thats not all it is! Meal prep can save loads of time during the week and bless your family by having some snacks and meals at the ready for your people to get fed quickly and easily.
How to do it: After you make your weekly meal plan, write a quick list of some things you could prep to make your life easier throughout the week. This list often consists of snacks, breakfast and lunch options for us! For meal prep ideas, check this hashtag on insta: #NRMealPrepSaturday
Incorporating all or some of these tips will ensure you have a more simplified and joyful experience in the kitchen. I hear the complaints from women all the time about coming up with meal ideas, keeping it exciting, not getting into a rut, disliking grocery shopping, feeling intimidated in the kitchen.....I hear you! I want to make that easier for you. If you implement any of these tips, let me know! I would love to hear how they're working for you.
Need a place to hold all this together? The Seasonal Meal Planner is your one-stop resource for implementing all these tips, all in a pretty bound planner. It's not just pretty though. The design is simple and fiercely practical, offering you prompts seasonally, monthly and weekly so you never feel lost and always have an arsenal of meal ideas. You can get yours in the shop here.