Minimalist Meal Planning

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

“WHAT’S FOR DINNER?”Uggh, even just typing that question out makes me stress out a little.

I’ve been there, on a busy weeknight, when all of a sudden a room full of hungry eyes lock onto you like an interrogation spotlight.

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before.

I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

How did I simplify?

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

I stopped eating out.

I know that cooking at home seems more complicated, but it’s really not. Why?

  • It’s healthier. Eating at home means you have better knowledge of what you are putting into your body and control over the size of your portion.
  • It’s cost effective. There was a point in our marriage where my husband and I were eating well at home for less than $40 a week. You read that right — it only took two President Jacksons cover 21 meals. These days, we are also concerned about using wholesome ingredients, so we traded out the boxed mac and cheese for a produce coop and local meats and still spend well under $100 a week for a family of 3.
  • Cooking and eating together at home strengthens relationships–whether it’s friends, family, acquaintances. If your meals are in sync, your lives will be more in sync.
  • Self-esteem booster! Choosing a healthy meal can positively affect the way you see yourself, which may be one of the most important benefits of all.

I simplified grocery shopping with my Minimalist Grocery List.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep.

But uggggh I do NOT like grocery shopping. I REALLY don’t like having to go back to the store at the last second. I REALLY REALLY don’t like wasting money on groceries.

So, I came up with a system, and IT WORKS! I call it the Minimalist Grocery List!

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

What’s special about this list?

–I freed myself by eliminating the foods from my diet that leave me feeling icky! It’s amazing, when you start to pay attention, how many foods on grocery store shelves are junk. Instead of eating boxed snacks, we now eat fresh fruits and veggies. If you don’t want to eat the junk, don’t allow it in your house! (And, bonus, I’ve lost a lot of weight with this strategy!)

–It’s easier on your budget by allowing you to stockpile the items you use while they are on sale.

–Save time grocery shopping by limiting yourself to easy to find ingredients.

–MOST OF ALL, save time on planning meals and cooking because you will already have everything you need in your pantry!

You will already have EVERYTHING you need in your pantry! And that feels GOOD.

I created a Minimalist Meal Plan schedule.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep. The second step is having a reliable dinner schedule to default to.

I plan our dinner schedule by categories. I loosely follow the routine below:

  • Mondays: rice bowls
  • Tuesdays: tacos
  • Wednesdays: sandwiches
  • Thursdays: salads
  • Fridays: pasta
  • Saturdays: pizza
  • Sunday: soup

Don’t forget to make a meal plan every week!

Every Saturday, after picking up the produce from my co-op, I sit down and make a plan for how we are going to use that food in our meals that week. I post the plan on the fridge so that everyone in the family is able to access it. We are more successful at eating at home when we start the week with a stocked kitchen and when everyone is made aware of the plan!

The Weekly Nutrition Reflection Checklist

It’s easy to default to a few quick meals, but I try to use the practice of reflection to expose my family, especially kids, to a wide variety of flavors and textures and to encourage us to eat a variety of highly nutritious foods in moderation. My questions change over time and in different life chapters. Take some time to think of one or two questions of your own to add!

  • Did I utilize a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors?
  • Did I use more fresh foods than packaged foods?
  • Did I primarily use lean meats and protein sources?
  • Was my family exposed to a high level of sugar or sodium throughout the week?
  • Did everyone in the family feel like they were able to contribute to our meals together in some way?

Keep it in perspective

Above all, meal planning is an opportunity to serve your family and provide a safe and consistent place to gather together daily. There is much more to life than meal planning.

I have to remind myself of the purpose of shopping for and preparing tacos on any given Tuesday. It’s not because I love to shop or because I love to cook; it is because I love my family. I love spending time with them. I want them to eat nutritious food and have healthy, strong bodies. I crave the dinner conversation, even though the majority of the conversation in this chapter of life is interrupted with “No no, please don’t throw that on the floor.”

And, as a Christian, I ultimately find my perspective in this Bible verse.

Maintain a larger perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time (yeah right, who has time… but seriously, try) to spend some time listing some things you are grateful for about this meal planning process. Contemplate what is meaningful to you. Life is fragile and can change in an instant, so keep track of what you are thankful for in everything today, in this moment, before it is passed.

I’ll be your cheerleader! You can do it!

Grocery shopping and meal planning does not have to be a difficult, expensive, and time consuming process. If you are overwhelmed by meal planning, I can help. Here’s how: my blog, Brohgan.com, is committing to making delicious meals from a standard list of common ingredients that can easily be stockpiled in a pantry.

Would you like to be friends? Me too!

If you provide me with your e-mail below, I will send you a weekly newsletter on Fridays. This newsletter includes a meal plan for the upcoming week and some encouraging weekend links. If you sign up below, my gift to you is a quick, printable guide to assist you as you begin your minimalist meal planning journey!

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter & meal plan and receive your *free* minimalist meal planning guide!

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How to Survive Cooking with Babies and Toddlers

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker

Brohgan Dieker is dedicated to answering the "what's for dinner" question with healthy, quick recipes that can accommodate busy schedules. She is a devout Christian, a wife and mother, and a lover of words and books. She lives in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and holds a degree in English from Kansas State University.
Brohgan Dieker

Latest posts by Brohgan Dieker (see all)

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

The core sounds simple: cooking dinner. But, the reality of the situation is that moms are trying to complete a task that requires a moderate amount of focus in a room FULL safety hazards. The hot pots, pans and knives are of course a concern, along with the chemicals under the sink, but with littles around there are countless minor accidents and injuries in the kitchen involving the hard non-cushioned flooring, the countless furniture corners at a toddler’s head level, and all the cabinet doors and drawers for pinching fingers.

(And each bump and scrape pulls you away from your cooking task.)

Since my son was born, I doubt I have spent any significant amount of time in a kitchen without something happening.  Whether it was him as an infant demanding a series of cluster feeds right in the middle of making dinner, him throwing toy after toy off the high chair tray at 9 months, or him now, at 15 months, trying to crawl into the dishwasher to retrieve a favorite cup, it’s always something.

Just as you start to find a strategy that works, a strategy that keeps those little hands busy and that little mind occupied, these kids grow up and change a little bit, just enough that yesterday’s perfectly formulated plan no longer applies.

Every day is different. Every. single. day.

And that’s awesome! Because when I think back to all of those daily kitchen moments over the course of the last 15 months, I realize that I was watching my son grow every day right before my eyes. It’s messy and stressful, but that’s so cool!

But it also makes the simple chore of cooking dinner DIFFICULT.

Cooking dinner is a chore that you can’t just skip, either. At least, not most nights. There is now an additional mouth to feed (and diaper and take to the doctor and put through college etc. etc.). Eating at home is a financial decision for most families, and getting take out every night is just not realistic.

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

Ask for help.

I don’t know why it was so difficult for me to ask for help with cooking.

When my son was first born, I would try to be the one who made dinner every night. I enjoy cooking. It’s a creative outlet and it’s stress relieving for me… normally… before I became a parent.

But, in those crazy early baby days, making dinner would ALWAYS seem to be timed with a feeding.

(And forget those lies that all the baby books say about nursing every 3 hours… my son was an every hour kid from the day he was born until he started eating solids.)

So, cooking became the thing that I did while someone tiny was grouchy with me. I was pretty hesitant to give up the only chore that I actually enjoy. I was brand spankin’ new to this food blog thing, and I was relishing every minute in the kitchen possible.

So, I had to ask my husband for help.

There were a few days that I would try and do the cooking while he attempted to pacify the unhappy bebe. Often we would switch half way through.

The point is that I often needed help. There were days when cooking dinner was something that required two people to accomplish, and I had to ask for help in some way every night.

Snacks are a game changer!

Hallelujah, there came a day when the baby grew up and SNACKS became my help. Do you know how long it takes an older baby to get one of those rice puffs off the high chair tray and into their mouth? Usually long enough to at least put something frozen into the oven.

Involve babies and toddlers in the shopping process.

This is going to sound easier than it is, but involving my son in the grocery shopping process early on and continuing through toddlerhood was a good decision for me.

First, it has built his food vocabulary. I remember holding up all the produce for my son to examine from his infant carrier (and feeling like a crazy woman while doing so). Now, when he sees a banana, he starts flailing around making the sign and just about jumps out of the cart.

I narrate the names and flavors and colors and anything else I could think of about every food we see. I remind him why we don’t buy cookies EVERY time (just most times… haha).  I tell him why I am buying it. “This green zucchini squash is going to be for dinner on Wednesday.”

Also, it makes new foods, or foods we don’t eat often, a tiny bit less foreign.

When Wednesday comes around, and we pull out the squash, it’s a tiny bit less foreign (even though it will, inevitably, be tossed onto the floor… all part of the learning process).

And yes, there are some trips to the store where I’m tired and grouchy and I don’t do this. And, those trips are usually quick and more difficult.

Just a note: after learning the hard way, I really prefer building vocabulary at the store vs. at the dinner table. We hit a rut where my son would only eat the foods he knew the words for and he was asking for, which was only fruit bars, apple sauce and bread. Now I just plop something in front of him and tell him it’s dinner without telling him any of the names for the foods. He’s much more willing to try “dinner” than 10 foods with new names all mixed together.

Hand out age appropriate tasks.

When it comes time to cook the squash on Wednesday, I usually try to involve everyone in the family in some way. My son can help me wash it in the sink. And, after I cut it, if I need the pieces transferred into a bowl, he could probably help with that.

When he was younger, I might have him hold one of the big spoons, or he would help get the pot out of the oven drawer.

When he was even younger than that, old enough to be alert, but not old enough that he was mobile, he would just watch from his bouncer on the floor while I talked to him.

There is always an age appropriate task. It takes patience and some creativitiy to think of it. It also takes some willingness to let go of the adult agenda and just have fun together.

Yes, handing out these tasks takes A LOT of time. I can wash a zucchini in 10 seconds, but with help it might take a minute, if all goes well.

Manage your expectations.

Every day is different, and every dinnertime is going to be different. You could cook frozen chicken nuggets every evening for a year, but it’s still going to be nearly impossible to do some days.

Here is how I manage my dinnertime expectations:

1. I always ALWAYS have a quick back up on hand. Usually, that back up is bread with peanut butter. I’ve said it before: peanut butter is the glue that holds this family together.

2. I limit myself to trying new recipes. If you subscribe to my newsletter and receive my weekly meal plan, you probably notice that I typically try a new recipe on Tuesday. I spend the rest of the week cooking things that are familiar staples, many of which I have written about here on the blog.

3. Some chores can be saved for tomorrow. There are some nights when dinner, bath, bed goes bang bang bang, and all of a sudden the house is quiet and I’m exhausted. Except, nobody remembered to scrub that one pan. THE PAN CAN WAIT UNTIL MORNING. I promise you, that one friend of yours with a spotless house will never know (if they knock on the door, just hide it under the sink). You’re a mom of littles, and that takes some serious energy. Allow yourself the time you need to take care of yourself while you are able.

Best of luck to you, friends! If you have an more tips that are working for you, would you please share with everyone in the comments section below?

3 Things That Are Not In My Grocery Cart

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It’s been a few days since I released the FOREVER Grocery List.  Have you had a chance to check it out yet?

Take one look at that list, and I think you will realize that I’m WEIRD when it comes to grocery shopping.  It’s true, and I admit it. I’m very fine with my own weirdness in this area.

I graduated from college in the height of the recession. After turning in about 200 job applications, a family connection landed me a job as a cashier at a grocery store.

I’m picky about what I buy, because I’ve seen what people buy.

I really don’t care if you make a million dollars a year or if you have to dump a jar of pennies on the counter to pay, BUDGETING IS IMPORTANT.  It’s the only way to get ahead and make your money work for you. I don’t throw away money at the store; instead, I try to go in with a plan and stick to it.  I’m a careful shopper, and I make sure that every dollar I spend is on nutrient-rich foods that give me my bang for my buck.

That being said, I don’t always buy the cheapest or easiest option.  We are all voting with our dollars, and there are some highly unethical practices that appear on grocery store shelves today.

The biggest issue has recently been cleaned up, but only just this year: we were purchasing goods made by slaves in other countries.  That just baffles my mind! Another: we have been purchasing items where the farmer/rancher in another country was not fairly compensated or in an unsafe environment. So many items are available through fair trade certified route: alchohol, beans, grains, chocolate, coffee, fruits and veggies, spices, honey, nuts, sugar, tea. The products that are not fair trade certified are probably corrupt.

The last issue I am going to bring up: the average food travels 1500 miles before it lands on our plate, and that’s just not ok. It’s contributing to environmental issues and global warming, and consumers have no idea what they’re actually putting into their bodies. I buy from local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. And know what? The quality is AMAZING! Gotta love life in Kansas!

So here are a few things that are typically not in my shopping cart.

Here’s a disclaimer: I’m no nutritionist.  I took one class in college, and I read, but I don’t know your specific circumstances, and I’m not at all qualified to give you nutritional advice. If you have questions at all, I would advise that you speak to a medical professional.

Here are 3 things that are not in my grocery cart:

1. Snacks!

No chips, no crackers, no cookies. Or at least, very sparingly.

Why?

(1) These foods are typically high in sodium. Did you know that 90% of Americans are eating WAY TOO MUCH and it’s probably killing us? These foods are also high in calories and low in actual nutritional value.

(2) These foods are EXPENSIVE.  You can easily spend $20 or more and with 30 minutes of mindless eating, it’s all suddenly gone. And you’re hungry again an hour later.

2. Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.

I have a fear of high-fructose corn syrup (and yes, it’s different than the corn syrup you can buy in the baking aisle, btw).

While the rest of America is fretting over our new clown epidemic, the thought of high-fructose corn syrup hiding out in my kitchen cabinet watching me has my knees knocking.

It’s in our juice, our soda, our breakfast cereal, our yogurt, our salad dressings, our bread, our candy, our energy snacks, our tomato sauces including ketchup, our peanut butter.

Basically, our society is consuming toxic levels of this stuff, but it’s not allowed in my house.

3. Meat.

Here’s a famous, old headline for you: the U.S. could feed 800 million people with the grain that livestock eat.  But, it’s true.  It’s much more efficient to eat plants than the animals who eat plants.

I’m picky about meat.  I don’t eat chicken that is injected with saline (paying $1.50/package for salt water, btw).  I don’t eat beef that wasn’t grass fed.

I actually barely eat meat at all!

Bonus: Yogurt.

Ok, this is a bonus, because I haven’t actually made my own yogurt before, but I plan to very soon!

Did you know that you can make yogurt?  Apparently it’s easy, but I haven’t tried yet!

non-chef-1

The FOREVER Grocery List!

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I have hinted that I was planning a FOREVER Grocery List. A lot.

Sign up by clicking HERE or on the photo below!

non-chef

I get it, you’re busy. I can help. Here’s how: the Non-Chef Blog is committing to making delicious meals from a standard list of common ingredients that can easily be stockpiled in a pantry.  

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep.  So, I created a Forever list!

WHY THIS LIST?

  • Free yourself by eliminating the foods from your diet that leave you feeling badly!
  • It’s easier on your budget by allowing you to stockpile the items you use while they are on sale.
  • Save time shopping by limiting yourself to easy to find ingredients.
  • MOST OF ALL, save time on planning meals and cooking because you will already have everything you need in your pantry!

You will already have EVERYTHING you need in your pantry!

 

BUT… WHAT ABOUT SNACKING???

If you’re first thought was about snacks, you’re not alone. Snacking was the first thing my husband and I struggled with when we started playing around with this idea. It takes some adjusting, but we’ve discovered some amazing benefits.

  1. Limiting snacking saves money.
  2. We have lost excess weight and feel healthier!

Turns out prepackaged cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, candy, and all the other mindless snacks are not only empty calories, they’re entirely unnecessary! Instead, here are a list of snacks included on this list that are always on hand:

  • Apples
  • Baby carrots
  • Bananas
  • Bell peppers (green and red)
  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Celery
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate chips

WILL I GET BORED?

Not at all! The possibilities are endless!  I’ve been sticking to this list for a couple of months now, and I haven’t gotten bored yet! By stocking your kitchen with this list, ALL of the Non-Chef recipes are already hiding in your Forever pantry including:

Do you actually keep ALL of these ingredients on hand all the time?

No way, Jose! We’re always out of SOMETHING. And, we actually don’t each much meat, so I only stockpile if I land a major sale. I do try to keep the ingredients we use most often stocked: rice, beans, cereal, milk, bread, frozen fruit/veggies, peanut butter, spices. Adjust the list to make it work in your kitchen!

Sign up to receive your Non-Chef Forever Grocery List today!