Simple Pantry Cooking

Easy Menu Planning | cooking uncomplicated

Simplified Dinners for New Cooks

When I was 11, my mom had twins. Already interested in cooking, I eagerly took once-a-week dinner duties. I could make spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (from boxes) with tuna and peas, and hamburger helper. My grandma was an extreme couponer before it was a thing, so she kept our pantry stocked with boxes and mixes, and I appreciated being able to grab something, follow the 3 steps, and put dinner on the table by myself – complete with microwaved frozen mixed vegetables.

I think kids that age want to be useful and contribute in real ways to the family, and what is more useful than feeding people?

Actually, this project first began this summer when an extended-family conversation turned to sending my younger brother off to college and how he was renting an apartment off campus. “You’ll have to send him Simplified Dinners,” commented my mom. I pulled my printed copy off the shelf to let him look through and chatted about how easy the dinners were. He stopped me, “So, saute is like cutting them a certain way?”

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Oops. Nevermind. Simplified Dinners is not going to work for you. Simplified Dinners presumes kitchen skills; it is written for busy, harried moms like me who just want to get dinner on the table but don’t want to have to think through everything or read a long discursive recipe. It’s dinner shorthand, presuming you know the lingo.

I decided my brother needed a Simplified Simplified Dinners; one that didn’t presume any kitchen experience.

Now he has his own edition of Simplified Dinners for New Cooks: 13 tools, 16 skills, 10 dinner types that each have three or more variations.
 

And working on this new version has worked out pretty well for me, too! I plopped a page of my draft in front of my 11 year old and said, “I think you can make dinner all by yourself. Let’s see.” And he did it. And he asked to do it again the next day. So he and his brother tested the clarity of instructions for me, and I refined wording, and our work is nearly complete: Simplified Dinners for New Cooks is nearly ready for publishing.

kids can cook dinnerkids can cook dinner

My 9 & 11 year old boys really are thrilled to be able to be independent in the kitchen, get dinner on the table themselves, and receive all the thanks due to the cook at the table.

kids can cook dinner

At his age, I cooked Hamburger Helper and Macaroni and Cheese from boxes and zapped frozen vegetables in the microwave. It was a start, but not a start I wanted to have to live through at my own dinner table. We’ve grown up a bit in our taste since that time.

But I think we’ve proven that if you can wield a knife, you can get dinner on the table. Not just any dinner, either, but a real food, from-scratch dinner.

For real.

They have made pizza from scratch – including the yeast dough, baked bacon with frittata and muffins, salad with homemade salad dressing, creamy chicken pasta, sausage-and-beans, soup, chicken quesadillas, and more. Tonight they are doing homemade pizza again, because that was their favorite.

I am just as excited as my kids. What better way to outsource meals than to the people who need to eat it, too.

They aren’t as excited about outsourcing the mopping or the bathroom-cleaning, but dinner, yes, they’ll take dinner duty anytime.

It’s now available!

This resource is all you need to teach your kids to be independent in the kitchen and take dinner duty off your plate some nights. Or if you aren’t so sure yourself about cooking from scratch, this book will make it simple and easy.

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Try it. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, just let me know and I’ll refund your purchase.

Planning meals ahead of time | Menu Plan Monday

simple easy homemade family menu plan

The six-week menu plan is going along swimmingly. Friday we ended up having Costco rotisserie chicken instead of the fried rice planned, but I moved fried rice to Saturday and we skipped the bakes potatoes. I needed another batch of broth simmered up anyway for our soup this coming Wednesday. With dinners planned out already, I knew that was coming up and got the bones into the crockpot of water right away.

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Breakfasts This Week

  • Monday: Sunday leftovers with scrambled eggs
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays: German pancakes
  • Wednesdays & Fridays: simple homemade granola with milk
  • Saturday: Daddy-made pancakes
  • Sunday: whole wheat cinnamon rolls (made on Saturday)

Lunches This Week

  • Monday: microwave nachos, pears, carrots
  • Tuesday: quick artisan bread, cheese, pears
  • Wednesday: leftover bread from Tuesday, cheese slices, pepperoni, oranges
  • Thursday: rice with carrots & peas, topped with butter or cheese
  • Friday: microwave nachos with refried beans

Dinners This Week

Balsamic skillet chicken for dinner tonight from Simplified Dinners. A no-thinking-required meal.

A photo posted by Mystie Winckler (@mystiewinckler) on

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Simplified Dinners eBook

  •  Monday: skillet chicken, roasted potatoes, and roasted frozen broccoli
  • Tuesday: creamy meatballs over pasta, salad
  • Wednesday: chicken soup with veggies & rice, salad, no-knead artisan bread
  • Thursday: homemade pizza
  • Friday: fried rice with leftover chicken
  • Saturday: crockpot pinto beans with nachos

Simplify menu planning, grocery shopping, and dinner cooking with Simplified Dinners!

My 6-week plan in action | Menu Plan Monday

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. Making use of leftovers has helped stretch not only the menu but also my time in the kitchen.

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. In the end I might have a few meals left over, even. Last Saturday instead of having the planned dinner, we were able to have Friday leftovers and one night I had enough soup leftover to package up and freeze.

I also didn’t plan any frittata dinner nights, holding that one in my back pocket as a quick and simple Plan B dinner in case I don’t soak the beans or thaw the meat or start dinner in time.

My six-week menu plan is going well so far. Making use of leftovers has helped stretch not only the menu but also my time in the kitchen.

With the menu plan already on the calendar for weeks in advance, the thing I must remember is to actually look at it! A list does us no good if we don’t look at it. I’m trying to be better about looking at my calendar and my menu plan first thing in the morning and also in the evening.

Breakfasts This Week

  • Monday: Sunday leftover cinnamon rolls with scrambled eggs
  • Tuesdays & Thursdays: German pancakes
  • Wednesdays & Fridays: simple homemade granola with milk
  • Saturday: Daddy-made pancakes
  • Sunday: whole wheat cinnamon rolls (made on Saturday)

Lunches This Week

  • Monday: microwave chips & cheese, apples
  • Tuesday: quick artisan bread, cheese, fruit & veggies
  • Wednesday: leftover bread from Tuesday, cheese slices, salami, fruit & veggies
  • Thursday: rice with carrots & peas, topped with butter
  • Friday: leftover homemade pizza from Thursday’s dinner

Dinners This Week

Simplified Dinners eBook

  •  Monday: ham in the crockpot, cheesy toasts, glazed carrots
  • Tuesday: skillet chicken (probably the lime version), roasted potatoes, roasted frozen broccoli
  • Wednesday: split pea soup in the crockpot with the ham bone from Monday, bread, salad
  • Thursday: homemade pizza (pizza on zucchini planks for me)
  • Friday: fried rice with leftover chicken
  • Saturday: baked potato bar

Make dinner simple, with or without a menu plan. Check out Simplified Dinners!

Yummy Whole Wheat Cheese Muffin Recipe

My kids have been loving these cheese muffins. They are not sweet cheese muffins, but they pack a punch of cheesy goodness. They are fluffy and soft, keep well, and freeze well. If you use soft white whole wheat or pastry whole wheat flour, you will hardly be able to tell they’re whole wheat at all. They make a tasty dinner side dish that is quick to whip up and then the leftovers can be lunch the next day. The great thing about muffins is how quickly they bake – when I need a quick bread to accompany dinner, I make muffins – and right now, these are the favorites at our house.

When I want to have a lower-carb dinner but the kids need their starch filler, these muffins whip up in a jiffy and are so good.

My kids have been loving these cheese muffins. They are not sweet cheese muffins, but they pack a punch of cheesy goodness. They are fluffy and soft, keep well, and freeze well.

They make great lunches, too! A slice of salami sandwiched in the muffin is delicious.

I like to make a batch of three or four dozen at a time: have some with dinner, some for lunch the next day, and put a bag into the freezer so I can pull out something for a simple lunch another day.

You can use any cheese you have on hand, but a sharp Cheddar will make the tastiest and cheesiest muffin.

I took a cheese bread recipe a friend had recommended to me and adjusted not only the cooking time, but also made it whole wheat and cut the sugar in half. It’s still scrumptious.

I use all soft white wheat (or pastry whole wheat) flour in mine, but if you’re using standard hard red whole wheat flour, I recommend using only half whole wheat and half white.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Cheese Muffins

Makes 18-24

My kids have been loving these cheese muffins. They are not sweet cheese muffins, but they pack a punch of cheesy goodness. They are fluffy and soft, keep well, and freeze well.

Stir together:

*   3 1/2 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
*   1/4 cup sugar
*   2 Tablespoons baking powder
*   2 teaspoons salt
*   2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Gently mix in

*   2 eggs
*  1 1/2 cups milk
*   2/3 cup oil or melted butter

Scoop into muffin tins lined with papers or silicone baking cups. Bake at 400* for around 15-20 minutes.

My kids have been loving these cheese muffins. They are not sweet cheese muffins, but they pack a punch of cheesy goodness. They are fluffy and soft, keep well, and freeze well.

Enjoy!

How to menu plan 6 weeks at a time

Remembering how to menu plan

As the end of the school semester drew near, the holidays drew near, the end of the year drew near, I stopped menu planning. I just never took the time to sit down and write out meals – there were always other things I thought I should be doing.

We still ate just fine – Simplified Dinners means a slip up in the menu planning process doesn’t throw me for much of a loop. We had our standard supplies in the pantry and I just made whatever I could with whatever meat I could remember to thaw (or used the tuna or an egg meal if I had forgotten).

But running life without a menu plan is not ideal. It’s not how I want to do things. The truth is, without a menu plan, dinner-making is more exhausting, even when there’s plenty of food to pull meals together. It’s about decision-fatigue. At the end of the day, I want the decisions about dinner already made for me, because I don’t have much energy or attention left over to give it.

The truth is, without a menu plan, dinner-making is more exhausting, even when there’s plenty of food to pull meals together. It’s about decision-fatigue. At the end of the day, I want the decisions about dinner already made for me, because I don’t have much energy or attention left over to give it.

So, I sat down during our Christmas break and planned out six week’s worth of meals in one fell swoop. We homeschool and have 6-week terms and then a week off, so I planned meals through our next term and during our next break, I can dedicate another forty-five minutes to planning out the next 6 week’s worth of dinners.

This process was made quicker for me because I use Google calendar for menu planning, but you can use whatever way you prefer.

Here’s how I did it.

How to menu plan 6 weeks at a time.

  1. Take stock of what’s in your freezer already. I had a ham, some pork, and beef soup bones in addition to the chicken breasts and frozen meatballs I usually have.
  2. Fill in any special days coming up: birthdays, eating out, friends over – if you already have plans on certain days, mark those.
  3. Decide on some standard day-of-the-week dinners. We do chicken on Mondays. I can do chicken a lot of ways, but every Monday morning, I know I need to go grab some chicken out of the basement freezer. Wednesdays are crockpot days at our house. Assign a certain type of meal to some of the days of the week.
  4. Fill in variations those assigned dinner types for the next six weeks. If you spread out your different options for chicken or crockpot dinners, you’ll not feel like you’re cooking and eating the same thing every week.
  5. Start filling in other dinner options. Think about how much time or energy is usually left by the end of the day on certain days of the week. What days are you more likely to feel like cooking and what days are good for pulling out the frozen meatballs? I usually alternate weeks on some meals – Tuesday one week might be a tortilla meal and then rice the next. Planning in six weeks chunks helps make rotations like that simpler to plan.
  6. Make sure you plan the vegetable and side if you need one as well as the main dish. See my post on Menu Planning: Think in Threes for more about planning a complete meal.

Each and every dinner will not happen as planned for the next six weeks, but the plan is in place so that I don’t have to think about it anymore. If I need a dinner plan, there’s one on my calendar. If I feel like getting creative, I can just move the dinner to another day or simply delete that day’s plan. But having the plan in place means I don’t have to panic at 4pm that I had forgotten to think about dinner.

And that’s why I did it.