I've noticed that when people want to get on a real food diet, they think they need elaborate meal plans with dry erase boards neatly filled in with three meals a day.
Baked blueberry pecan oatmeal for breakfast, Asian pesto curry for lunch and almond crusted parmesan tilapia for dinner...
(I just made those titles up, by the way, but they really do all sound fabulous.)
Just do a quick Pinterest search for "Paleo Recipes" and prepare to be overwhelmed.
I love a good crispy coconut chicken with squash and parmesan fritters as much as the next person, but maybe for a Saturday night special dinner, or a night when I have a little extra time to spend in the kitchen...
Which is pretty much never.
I am a mom of four small kids!
If you think you need to make Paleo safe coconut tortillas for every meal, that plan isn't something sustainable . No wonder people limit their healthy eating attempts to 30 days.
Eating real food can feel so overwhelming when we hold ourselves to these standards!
What ever happened to good old fashioned meat, vegetables and herbs?
Back when my grandma was a mother of young children, I imagine she cooked a whole chicken, baked potatoes and maybe served it all with a biscuit and canned jam.
No fancy recipes. Just real food.
Meal planning stresses me out, my friends.
If you have a Type A personality, and thrive in environments with plans and rigid structure, you should probably stop reading this post now. I think meal planning is a fabulous option for you.
I am NOT against meal planning.
I am talking to the moms who actually feel burdened and stressed by the idea.
I tried meal planning. Really, I did. I sat there for hours, on Pinterest, with my pen and notepad in hand, one night per week. I sifted through as many popular healthy eating boards as I could find.
I wound up with an almost full bottle of rice vinegar, half a can of tomato paste and rotting herbs all stashed in the back of my fridge.
Ok I don't remember exactly what happened, but I know I ended up buying a bunch of crap I don't normally use, just so I could follow the recipes.
I like the freedom and creativity that not having a plan allows for me.
I can fill up my cart "on a whim" with organic peppers, when I see the store has them on sale for $1.99.
When chanterelle mushrooms are in season, and we forage a grocery sack full, I want to incorporate them into everything.
If 13 dozen organic eggs are marked down, because they are about to expire, I am going to snag them up, and throw the meal plan out the window on the way home.
Egg salad, anyone?
In the summer we eat lots of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini, because I find them cheap at the local produce stand.
Would you believe I also go to the store without a list? *Gasp*
And, trust me, its not as reckless as it sounds.
I will share with you my 5 tips for having healthy meals every night without a plan.
1. Always have meat thawing in the refrigerator.
I keep a glass 9 X 13 pan in the fridge for thawing meat.
When I only have a few dinners worth of thawed meat in it, I will restock it with a whole chicken, two pounds of ground beef and a couple of steaks.
If you have meat thawed out, you are less than an hour from a meal at all times.
Is throwing a whole chicken and five sweet potatoes in the oven really that much harder than throwing a pre-made pizza in?
2. Do a little prep work when you have extra time.
If you're a person who likes to ferment things, like me, spending some time on a Saturday to make up a few gallons of sauerkraut, will reward you richly in having a side dish ready to go.
Once it is done fermenting, you throw it in the fridge, and it is all ready to go every time you need a side.
No cooking, chopping, nothing.
I serve it with literally every single meal.
If you have some extra time in the morning, chop up several onions and peppers and store them in the fridge for a quick side for steak or chicken.
Hard boil a dozen eggs and throw them in the fridge. They will be all ready to go when you need a super quick meal.
If you already have the oven on, while roasting a chicken, or making meatloaf, you might as well throw in 10 sweet potatoes. After they cool, scoop the cooked sweet potato out and put it in a. glass bowl. Next time you need a quick side, pull it out of the fridge, warm it up and add butter and salt.
When I buy bananas I always buy about 10 bunches at once. When they start to get brown spots, I peel them, break them in half and throw them in a gallon size ziplock bag. Then, they are all ready to go for breakfast kefir smoothies.
3. Keep quick cooking staples on hand.
You know those nights when you forgot to thaw meat, you've been out of the house all day and you come home hungry?
The meal planning Nazi's might use this as a scare tactic to make you think meal planning is the only way to handle this scenario, without derailing your healthy eating plan.
I'm only kidding. I admire my meal planning friends.
But, for real. It isn't true.
If you keep a few things on hand, you can have a meal in less than 30 minutes, even if you forgot to fill up your meat thawing pan. ;)
For these little emergencies, I always keep canned salmon in the pantry. I make Crispy Salmon Burgers and serve it up with some sliced avocado and sauerkraut.
Another great option is scrambled eggs. No thawing required, and they take less than five minutes to cook.
Running out of eggs for us is an emergency and requires an immediate trip to the store. I need them on hand for times like this, and super easy breakfasts.
We have five chickens, but we would need more like 20, to sustain our egg eating habits.
Add some sautéed onions, and a few of the easy sides in tip four, and eggs can pass for a legit meal.
4. Keep the fridge stocked with easy sides.
A great example of this is avocado.
They are filling, healthy and require no cooking.
If avocados are on sale, I buy 30 at a time. I keep them in the refrigerator, and pull out four or five at a time, to ripen.
When its meal time, I just slice it up and sprinkle on a little salt. I serve one or two with every meal, as a super easy side dish.
Some other super simple sides are steamed carrots, mashed cauliflower, crispy potatoes and baked sweet potatoes.
For carrots, I usually slice them into sticks and steam them in a small saucepan, with a little water, and the lid on. I serve them with butter and salt.
I do the cauliflower the exact same as the carrots, but afterwards I mash it up. I always add plenty of butter, salt and pepper.
I sometimes serve carmelized onions, or sautéed mushrooms, as a side dish all on their own.
5. Stock your staples.
You will never find my fridge without carrots, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, celery and butter.
I don't mess around when I go to the grocery store. Five bags of carrots, 10 pounds of onions, three heads of cauliflower. Why not? I will use them all up in a week anyway.
In the fall, I purchase butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash in bulk.
In the spring we eat a lot more salads, drizzled with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
My freezer always has serval bags of frozen vegetables, frozen fruit and lots of beef and chicken.
As long as you have the thawed meat from tip one, and these staples on hand, you have a meal.
For snacks, I keep walnuts, pumpkin seeds and popcorn on hand in my cabinets.
Sometimes I make my kids Paleo Dough Cookie Bites, Homemade Larabars and Grain Free Granola. But most of the time, I don't. In fact, I can't remember the last time I made any of these things. I just don't have enough time to spend it all in the kitchen.
Most of the time the kids help themselves to nuts and frozen fruit.
I also like to make homemade yogurt, by the gallon, in my instant pot for a super simple snack option.
To sum it all up, cook some meat and a whole bunch of vegetables.
Add salt, pepper and butter.
Mix it up with herbs and foods that are in season, and sprinkle it all with whatever random spices you have in your spice cabinet.
Turmeric and basil chicken. Grass Fed Roast with rosemary. Why not?
Buy a bunch of lemon or limes, if they're on sale, and squirt them on everything you make.
Throw the blueberries and toasted coconut in the oatmeal if you feel like it. Add fresh herbs to your meat with reckless abandon. You don't have a recipe at every single meal to do this.
Not meal planning definitely doesn't mean boring.
For breakfast, I fry eggs and make smoothies six days out of seven.
Typical lunch and dinner meals for my family include:
Roasted chicken with with steamed carrots, sauerkraut and sliced avocado.
Grass fed beef steak sliced very thinly and sautéed in butter. Served with sautéed onions, peppers, sauerkraut and avocado.
Salmon burgers with mashed cauliflower, sliced avocado and sauerkraut.
Leftover chicken soup, in homemade bone broth, with onions, carrots and frozen peas.
Meatloaf with mashed butternut squash, sauerkraut and sautéed mushrooms.
Sometimes I get fancy and follow recipes, or make desserts.
But most of the time, I just cook a whole bunch of meat and whole bunch of vegetables, add in whatever is in season, some butter spices and salt and leave. it. at. that.
How about you? Are you a meal planner? Or do you fly the seat of your pants like me, and find it all works out?
Were these tips helpful?
Any tips I forgot?
Let me know in the comments below.