Organizing Simple Meals

Over the years I’ve helped many, many families think about their meals, but it’s clear that food, like money, is something that we have deeply held beliefs and assumptions about. Also, I believe that even though we are all similar, we are also very different, especially when it comes to tastes. But even if you are a foodie, or you expect meat in every dish, or, you know, whatever you think about food, every household should have a few simple meals on tap at all times.

Mac and cheese from scratch is one of my simple meals. Three ingredients. No recipe needed. Boil water, cook and drain the pasta. Add cheese and evaporated milk. Stir. It’s hearty enough to pass for a whole meal for one night. I add frozen peas while I’m boiling the pasta to get my greens in. Simple. Filling. Makes enough for lunch the next day.

organizing simple meals


We also rely heavily on frozen foods here. Sorry for the fuzzy picture, but lasagna like the one below (or choose a meat version if that’s your thing) is pretty close to minimally processed food, and can be kept in the freezer for a few weeks. I LOVE these all-in-one-pan kinds of freezer meals. Lasagna happens to require about an hour and a half of lead time, but many freezer favorites are dump-pan fry- eat simple. I LOVE fancy frozen vegetables, too. They make a quick and fancy side dish, easily cooked in about 5 minutes in the microwave while I’m fixing the rest of dinner.


Many nights, dinner is simply whatever we’ve got in the fridge, plus a carb of choice. This was grilled veggies and leftover grilled chicken over couscous. Maybe some olive oil and basil, if I’m feeling frisky. I could make this “same meal” 18 different ways, with different combinations of whatever is in the crisper drawer + whatever meat is leftover  + whatever box of rice/pasta/lentils/grains cooks the fastest.

simple dinner healthy meal

If something has a little more structure to it, say hamburgers on a bun, half of my work is done, and we only need to add a side. Most nights we go with steamed broccoli, which thankfully both my kids love.

What’s the point of this post? The point is…dinner doesn’t have to be complex, and it doesn’t have to be from a powder/box/bag/takeout menu. If you are looking to eat more plant-based/healthy/economical/simple foods, don’t overthink it. You don’t need the latest trendy food. You don’t even have to go organic, although you certainly can. And you don’t have to be terribly organized if you can get your meals down to a humble equation…

Veggie + protein + carbs = dinner


By the way…takeout dinners? They are totally fine by me, but they can be a budget buster and belly buster. Try shopping for and preparing this simple dinner equation, and let me know how it goes.


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Barb Wendel

    Good advice if you have a compliant family. I spend about 150. A week for the hubs and me. And I bake several times a week and share with my daughters who each have three kids. We eat at Applebees once a month. I make dinner all the time. All the time.

    My irritations are leftovers. And the hubs. I made corn beef and cabbage which I love and he hates the smell of cabbage. So, he opened the tub of leftovers, wrinkled his big nose and tossed it in the fridge. I grew up in a Lithuanian home so cabbage was common. He grew up in Stone Harbor. Fish was common, which he mostly hates. Then there is his stomach. As we are older now, he has heartburn a lot. I am just tired of always adjusting meals for his pleasure.

    I love your mealtime advice. I just wish it worked for the hubs. I enjoy your blogs.

    1. Darla

      Thanks for commenting, Barb. If it helps, you are certainly not alone! Cooking for others and then hearing complaints is tough to take. Funny story, last summer I told my girls that I was making it easy on myself, and we were having hamburgers (their favorite food) every night all summer. After about 2 weeks, they started asking for something different. LOL

  2. Ellin Hlebik

    Unstuffed cabbage with gr beef is a quick skillet meal that’s healthy. Can serve with rice or not.

    as well as pasta pesto sauce and the small bay scallops skillet meal.

    Both take like 10 min to cook. Can freeze pasta scallop dish too.
    I keep large cubes of pesto sauce that I make from the summer in the freezer
    easy to defrost and throw in the pasta dish.

    1. Darla

      Both sound like great ideas. Thanks. I never seem to have cabbage on hand, but I may pick some up shopping today.

  3. Kristine

    Great ideas! Do you bake your Mac and Cheese? My go to quick meal – stir fry veggies and rice. I like to use whatever veggies I have on hand. And in summer I make pasta salad with veggies and sometimes through in left over chicken. It was a great cold meal when Isabel had swim meets. I need to be more thoughtful with our meals – less processed stuff.

    1. Darla

      I LOVE baked mac and cheese. Honestly, by the time it’s mixed, I usually have to throw it at my ravenous family. But now that they are older, maybe I could try baking it after it’s mixed. I also love stir fry veggies and rice, but had to modify that because one of my kids wouldn’t eat rice for the longest time. I think she’s over that now, so it’ll be back on the menu this summer with lots of fresh veggies. Thanks for sharing your go-to meals!

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