Inside: Have you ever heard of applying minimalism to meal planning? There are so many surprising benefits If your family can tolerate eating the same meals over and over again, you will LOVE minimalist meal planning!
Minimalist meal planning is a tool every mom should have in her meal planning toolbox. This method will not work for everyone long-term – not everyone loves to eat the same meals week after week.
But there are events like childbirth, deaths, and moves when you just need to not think about meal planning. Decision fatigue during these times is overwhelmingly high.
You need the ease of take-out without the cost. Minimalist meal planning can help!
I used to love meal planning.
Every Thursday, I spread out the sale circulars for that week. I clipped coupons, and wrote out the meals to match. Meal planning took one or two hours. Shopping two or three stores with four kids took much longer.
Some weeks the menu worked, others, it didn’t. Eventually, I resented the amount of time meal planning (and couponing) took away from me and my kids, especially when I tried new, less than successful, recipes.
I officially burned out on meal planning.
I had already tried so many types of meal planning that didn’t work. Weekly, biweekly, monthly, rotations. I tried meal planning services like Plan to Eat, but because I still centered most of my meals around couponing, I never saved time, which misses the whole point of such services.
One day, I came across an article (which I can’t even find again) on the blog Becoming Minimalist. The author briefly mentioned applying minimalism to meal planning, posing the question:
How much time and energy could we save by eating the same meals each week?
Is it a new concept? Probably not. But it was new to me. Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot.
I made my first minimalist menu. I chose meals we all enjoyed (except my picky eater who eats about ten foods), bought ingredients and hoped for the best. While I’ve made one modification, three months later, I still love it.
Compared to all my other strategies for making life simpler, eating the same meals every week saves me the most time and energy by far.
7 Benefits of Minimalist Meal Planning
1) Decision-making energy is redirected to higher priorities.
As parents of little ones, we suffer from major decision fatigue. By dinner time, our brains are usually fried, and making dinner needs to be something we can do on autopilot. We need it be habit.
“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.” (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit)
With minimalist meal planning, I know exactly which meals I’m choosing from. We have the same ingredients waiting in the refrigerator every week. I picked meals can easily be shuffled depending on how the day has gone and how much time I have. I pick the one I have time for, and start cooking.
Because I make the same meals each week, each recipe is now habit: I could make them in my sleep.
2) Writing your grocery list takes five minutes or less.
When you cook the same meals each week, you need the same ingredients. I know the ingredients by heart. I quickly look in the fridge to see which core ingredients need replacing. Most of our snacks (3-4 staples) come via Amazon Subscribe and Save. The rest is simple: bread, milk, eggs, the same cereal my kids eat every day, fruit and vegetables.
3) You save money (and cabinet space) on expensive ingredients for one-time recipes.
Have you ever gotten the urge to try out a new dish? Do you end up buying spices and sauces you use only once? They sit in the back of the fridge or cabinet until you decide to check expiration dates and have to throw them out. Expensive ingredients take up space and also make it difficult to find other regularly used items.
Unless you are an amazing chef or cooking is your hobby, save fancy dishes with expensive ingredients for take out.
4) You waste less.
Most of the ingredients we purchase are used regularly. Because I’ve chosen meals with overlapping ingredients or ones that have a long shelf life, we throw away far less moldy or spoiled food than our pre-minimalist-meal-plan days.
For example, one of our weekly meals is chicken tortilla soup, which is perfect for tossing in leftover pico de gallo from taco night, half a red pepper, leftover taco meat, and a lime about to go bad. We clean out the fridge, and the soup takes on a slightly different flavor each week.
5) You have fewer dinner complaints.
What parent couldn’t use fewer dinner complaints?!
The kids (again, minus picky eater) know what to expect each week for dinners. They are slowly trying new things within the context of a familiar meal. With tacos for instance, my daughter started out eating just the meat, cheese, and corn. After watching me use tortillas each week, she now asks to try one. She tried cheese on her tortilla soup this week as well.
Trying new foods is easier when meals are routine and familiar.
6) Your overall grocery budget can be lower than average.
According to the Official USDA Food Plans, a Family of 6 with young children should budget anywhere from $756 (the low cost plan)- $1476 (liberal plan). (source) My jaw dropped when I read these numbers!
We currently spend around $700 per month on food groceries for a family of six. This is a rough estimate because I simplified my budget by making my grocery category fairly broad. It now includes diapers and household items such as paper towels and cleaning supplies because it’s easier to track. Budgeting is hard enough without splitting up a store receipt into different categories in a budgeting app.
Lest you think we make up for it by eating out, we are working on keeping our eat out budget at $100 per month (I confess we go over sometimes, especially when we don’t take time to prepare for outings).
While I’d love to spend less on food each month, the time I save for the slightly higher budget is worth it for our family. Also, the more we enjoy the food we keep at home, the less tempted we are to eat out.
7) Exceptions to the meal plan for special occasions are just that: special.
Our culture offers so many choices. Eating out and having access to so many different kinds of food have robbed the word “special” of its meaning. “Special” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual”.
Intentionally limiting our food choices can make “special” truly special again.
After several weeks of using a minimalist meal plan, we made one modification: each week usually includes a different, simple meal. While I can happily eat the same meals every week, my husband asked for just a little variety. I agreed, as long as the meals are simple.
So we incorporated a “rotation night” into the week to make room for meals like baked potatoes or grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with fresh veggies. As long as they require minimal effort on my part, I’m happy to accommodate a little variety.
Final Thoughts on Minimalist Meal Planning
Meal planning can take FOREVER to do every week. Why reinvent the wheel all the time? Minimalist meal planning saves so much time and energy that I encourage all families with young children to at least give it try it!
If you love to cook or your family loves variety and simply can’t each the same dinners week after week, consider having a minimalist meal plan for crazier seasons of life, like the birth of a child and hectic work months.
This may not work for every family all the time. After a few months, my husband requested more variety. I’ll be honest – I hate meal planning, which is why I started using a minimalist meal plan in the first place.
When he asked for variety, I immediately knew I needed help with meal planning. I signed up for Plan To Eat, and I LOVE it! It stores my recipes, makes it easy to drag and drop them onto the calendar, and it makes my grocery list FOR ME.
A year later, we are using a monthly minimalist meal plan: we eat the same 20-25 meals every month. This seems to be a good compromise for my husband, who can’t stand eating the same thing every single week. He can handle every few weeks.
Negotiate with your spouse. A weekly minimalist meal plan might not work for you, but a monthly minimalist meal plan might be the perfect fit.
You can come up with the perfect meal planning system for your family with a little trial and error. And isn’t that what pretty much all of motherhood is anyways? Trial and error?
The trial and error will pay off, and you will eventually have this whole meal planning thing down to a science. Promise.