Would you like to know one of my biggest weaknesses? I am desperately horrible at menu planning. I am so bad that meal time at my house is usually thrown together haphazardly about 30 minutes AFTER a decent time. Lately bedtime has had to be pushed back far longer than I would like because I just lose track of time (I blame daylight savings, who wants to cook when it’s still light outside?) and we end up ordering in (NOT good for my weight loss plans).
I’m actually a pretty good cook but I’m not very creative and I always gravitate to a handful of tried and true recipes no matter how many new ones I try. Matt likes to say that as soon as I find a recipe that everyone loves then I am sure to never make it again. I try making weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly menus while rotating new with old; organizing it on Pinterest; printing menus; once a month cooking; using tablet apps but every time I have crash and burn. Every week I fill up my fridge with healthy produce. Since all of that produce is meant for specific recipes my children are told “no” every time they ask for a red pepper or a piece of broccoli… a week later it has all rotted in fridge because I forgot/didn’t have enough time/something came up/running errands… the list goes on.
With everything else I have going on in my life I have finally decided that it is OK that I’m not one of those super organized meal prep kind of gals. Instead of beating my head against the wall and wasting money of food that will eventually rot, I have decided to work WITH my natural tendency on this issue instead of against it. While this does help with my stress level, I am still left with the question of how to feed my family nutritious and delicious meals with little prep and/or planning.
Simplified Dinners to the rescue! This is unlike any meal plan or cookbook I have ever used before. Mystie loved cooking and meal planning for her family but when her third child was born she realized (as did I) that child number three turn your life upside down. Things that were no problem with one or two children now became impossible. Add homeschooling to the list and Mystie could no longer keep up with meal planning, grocery lists, calendars and everything else that is with meal fancy planning. This is where Mystie and I part. Where as I deal with this by serving mozzarella cheese for dinner and over utilizing take out, Mystie completely revamped the meal planning paradigm. Instead of using grocery lists and recipes she created a master pantry list out of which she could pull always dinner using the same simple techniques that grandma used to use.
This cookbook is a lifesaver! It is actually a cookbook, meaning; instead of a collection of recipes it will teach you how to cook by adapting to your family’s tastes and what you have on hand. Mystie starts off with a “master pantry list”. A grocery list of basic staples that you should have on hand that will enable you to create her nutritious and delicious meals without “cream of” anything. Talk about cutting stress out of the grocery shopping process. The format to Simplified Dinners is so intuitive I’m surprised I have never seen it before (or thought of it myself).
At the top of every page is the the basic process for your meal. Underneath the process you will find several variations on the meal, all using the same beginning steps. For example, for slow-cooker roasts you can make Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef Roast, Golden Glow Pork, Cranberry Wine Roast and more; all using the same four steps and a handful of ingredients from the master pantry list.
The first time I tried making dinner this way I started to panic a little bit. True to form I got half way through my dinner prep and realized I didn’t have all of the proper ingredients to make ANY of her pasta dishes (I may or may not have tried jumping in without making sure I had everything on the master pantry list). I had sausage but not chicken and I had milk and dried herbs but not zucchini. I felt like one of those infomercial women with her arms spread out saying “what EVER will I do!” Then I remembered that I had read the book, I knew the theory behind it so I decided to be creative :)
I substituted sausage for the chicken in the creamy Alfredo sauce (I nixed the peas because, let’s be honest, peas are the devil’s legume) and within 15 minutes I fed my family the most delicious Alfredo pasta we have ever had. EVERYONE had seconds. I can’t remember the last time that has happened.
Since then I have tried my hands at quesadillas, roasts, stir-fry, and chicken dinners. Thanks to Simplified Dinners I can make soups, stews, and meat and potato dinners with the same ease as I do homemade pizza. When I find a recipe in a new cookbook or on Pinterest I am confident that I can cater it to meet the tastes of my family. I am SO glad that I had the opportunity to review this cookbook! Now if only I could magically remember to make dinner BEFORE bedtime :)