Fall is approaching and I am finding myself planning for this year’s school year, getting our menu planning back on track, and even experiencing a sort of “spring cleaning” impulse related to wanting the house in order for the busy fall ahead.
Traditionally the big cleaning projects were done in the spring. One of the reasons for this was because, after a full winter of closed in houses with coal burning heat, the houses could be literally coated with a thin layer of soot. Spring is a great time for cleaning out the house.
But I also find that summer can lend to a bit of a disorderly house after hot weather, low motivation, and extra summer activities without the structure of the school year. I enjoy the more relaxed schedule of summer. But by the end of summer, I am ready for a little more structure again, and find myself desiring the organization I somehow lose every summer.
Menu planning isn’t always my strength. With my long-term issues with low-energy that can occasionally run into the extremes, sometimes it can seem overwhelming to menu plan when you aren’t sure what you will be up for. Thankfully, since we started addressing my iron issues, my energy, though far from perfect, has remained fairly stable. (Oh, the joys of iron!). But for my own sake, and for my sanity, planning simple food is a necessity for most days. Thankfully, simple food can be a joy too.
Plus, I’ve often found that the simpler I keep my menu, the easier it is to save money on our budget. While there are exceptions, simple food lends itself to frugality.
I often notice that historically many meals were also quite simple. In (Amazon links in post are affiliate links) The Good Master – a lovely family/children’s book that was based on the authors growing up years in Hungary – their typical breakfast consisted simply of a bowl of fresh (raw) milk. When I read this growing up, I was a little distressed at their meager breakfast, but that was because I was relating it to my 2% modern milk. When I experienced the richness of farm fresh, whole milk from traditional breeds of cows whose milk was creamier than many modern cows, I realized how satisfying “real milk” was.
In another classic children’s story, Heidi, Heidi’s grandfather and she dine on homemade toasted goat’s cheese and bread. Dr. Price noticed that the typical lunch provided for the hearty and healthy Switzerland children he studied was a slab of homemade cheese and dark rye bread.
I miss dairy. Really I do.
But simple food doesn’t exist simply with cultures that consumed dairy! I recently bought a cookbook for my sister-in-law, Japanese Farm Food. I picked this beautiful book out for her partly because I loved the simplicity of the food (she is half Japanese, and like my husband, adores Asian food). It has recipes that are so simple, but use good ingredients well. A scoop of rice is topped with gently cooked fish, with a dashi-based broth poured over it. So simple, yet so appetizing! Vegetables are simply cooked, but with flavorful additions. Japanese food is so much more than just sushi and the restaurant-styled food we associate with it. In many Asian cultures, a simple broth based meal was served for breakfast – which was really nutritious and simple to make.
Here are a few broad based principles that I find helpful in keeping our regular meals simple.
Ingredients that aren’t fresh or tasty to begin with simply take a lot more work to taste good. Starting with quality ingredients allows you to serve it simply and still have it taste great. For example, a good quality aged cheddar is simply delicious in a sandwich or by itself. Velveteen cheese? Not so much.
Keep the basics on hand
Keeping the basics on hand really helps me throw together simple meals at the last minute. What those basics are depend on your eating style and needs. For us, homemade broth, basic vegetables (onions, carrots, celery), rice, avocados, salad greens, chicken (frozen and cooked), beef (frozen or fresh), bread, butter, apples and other fruits, and other miscellaneous items makes sure we are in good shape, menu plan or not.
Roasting is your friend
Simple meals of cut up vegetables, chicken legs, sausages, or meats of choice roasted together are a wonderful way to enjoy a “one-pan” meal that is very tasty too. Roasting is a simple process that deepens, sweetens and caramelizes ingredients – making it a flavorful choice, but also a simple one. You can easily adapt this method to use what you have on hand.
Soup is your friend as well
Granted I am biased because I adore soup, which is why I wrote, Ladled: Nourishing Soups for all Seasons, and I know that not everyone has this same love as I do. But I have known more than one person who didn’t think they liked soup until they tried homemade soup. Soup is so nourishing when you make it from homemade broth and fresh ingredients. They are also so versatile and you can easily use whatever you have on hand. Once a soup is made, it keeps well for at least half a week, and makes a tasty snack/lunch/dinner on another day.
Certain repetition is helpful
On the one hand, I kind of hate the American-styled family dinners where literally you use the same recipes and rotate through them every.single.week. Not only is this boring, but it will keep you limited in the wonderful world of food. However, on the other hand, a certain repetition can keep you on track, and can help you utilize favorite, simple frugal meals that you know your family likes. Plus, I love it when I am cooking something I’ve done so often I can practically cook it in my sleep. Less-stress, happier cook, happier family = very good thing.
Simple meals for us include: Rice or quinoa bowls (like this Mexican Quinoa Bowl), Cabbage and hot dogs served over rice or quinoa, Tacos, chili (get my paleo chili recipe here), spaghetti sauce made with nourishing ingredients and served with gluten-free pasta and/or grain-free noodles, simple teriyaki chicken served with rice/quinoa and steamed vegetables, breakfast dishes served for dinner, chicken soup (makes the broth and soup at the same time) and Thai Curry.
Those are some of my ideas. I’d love to hear what dishes you use to keep your food simple, healthy, and frugal!