Do you have a Pinterest board full of ‘recipes to try’ but no idea what to cook for dinner?
Do you spend more than half an hour meal planning for the entire month?
Do you dread meal planning more than a root canal?
If you answered yes, to any of these, this post is for you.
We all know that the French can teach us a lot about cooking. But they also have some meal planning secrets that make getting dinner on the table simple and almost effortless.
They don’t usually reveal their meal planning secrets but I’ve been undercover. As a student I worked as a nanny in the south of France. I lived with a French family and I saw first-hand how they plan, cook, eat and enjoy food. And being an enormous glutton, I took notes, my friends. Lots of notes.
Today I’m sharing 4 chic tips that will take your meal plan from overdressed to simply chic and from drab to stylish.
Get ready to say ‘bonjour’ to happier meal times.
Count the ingredients
Have you ever pinned a recipe that looks mouth-wateringly delicious only to hit the delete button because that recipe demands approximately 4567 hard-to-find, and shockingly expensive ingredients?
But in France, meals are simple.
Much like a chic outfit, the French dinner consists of a few quality items. A typical dinner with my French family was..wait for it…beef, tomatoes and bread. Plus a glass, or deux, of red wine.
The beef steak was lovingly seasoned with salt and pepper and then popped into the oven. The tomatoes (fresh, plump, ruby-skinned beauties) were baptised with a simple dressing.
The secret is to use ingredients of stellar quality that don’t need to hide behind a lot of other ingredients. Oh, and to cook them with love. This also means you don’t have to spend ages weighing and measuring those 4567 ingredients before you start cooking. Or clearing up 37 pans and dishes. Double win.
If you’re wondering how to apply this level of Madame Chanel-level simplicity to your own dinner times, I have a handy tactic that might work.
I’m allergic to complexity, so it’s a fill-in-the-blanks exercise.
1. Make a list of proteins you and your family love. These might be: steak, chicken, fish, tofu, pork, turkey etc. Plus your basic seasoning of choice: garlic, rosemary, coriander etc.
2. Make a second list of carbs you enjoy: pasta, rice, potatoes, bread etc.
3. Make a third list of vegetables you all enjoy along with how you like to dress them (peas with mint for example).
4. Make one last list: Simple puddings, fruit, cheese and wine you love.
When it’s time to plan a meal, just choose one item from each column.
I know you might love taco night or slow cooker night or Italian night but here’s the thing…you can still do those. I wouldn’t begin to tell you otherwise. But if you fancy making life easier sometimes, add an easy French-style dinner to your meal plan and call it French night. Voila.
Find your culinary signature style
When the mid-week rush has hit and you’re knee deep in your to-do list do you really have the energy to try another new recipe?
My French mama had a few delicious family recipes up her sleeve that she had grown up eating and could cook blindfolded. So when life got crazy, she’d hit auto-pilot and cook up one of those family favorites.
And I think we all have those kinds of recipes. Dishes that can be made perhaps with store cupboard items or that we always have ready-prepped in the freezer. And if we’re honest, it sometimes feels like cheating, laziness or short-changing our loving family.
But you know what?
Our families love those meals. In fact, those are the meals our children will remember when they’re all grown up and cooking for our grandchildren. Yes, meal planning is memory making too.
Have you found your signature culinary style? I highly encourage you to put together a capsule-wardrobe style list of recipes that can be on heavy rotation on your meal plan. And when you do cook them, do it with a dollop of French insouciance. Je ne regrette rien! I regret nothing.
Keep track of your greatest hits
Never throw away your meal plans: keep them and use them again next month. Treasure them like the winning lottery tickets they truly are. Sure, change out the type of vegetables you’re serving or other side dishes but keep the basic meal. Recycle, mon amie!
The grandmother of my French family had diaries full of everything she had cooked for dinner for years. She would often pull out one of these diaries and reminisce. Many a conversation started with: ‘Oh la la, do you remember that time we ate…’
Snack - French style
French people don’t usually snack. But when they do, they don’t reach for chips, cheap chocolate or fizzy drinks. This means empty calories aren’t consumed and shopping budgets aren’t stretched to pay for said chips, cheap chocolate and fizzy drinks. Double win.
Please don’t get caught up in the ‘you must give up snacks to be as chic as a French woman’ advice. A hungry mommy is usually an angry mommy.
But instead of reaching for snacks laden with sugar and unhealthy fats, why not grab a small portion of leftovers from the fridge? Or some olives and a slice of cheese? Or a piece of bread slathered with pate?
The key, as usual, is planning ahead: plan your snacks like you plan your meals. You could cook a bit extra to keep as a snack for the next day or try adding a few versatile items to your shopping list.
Stop dreading meal planning
Have you fallen off the meal planning wagon more times than you can count?
Does the thought of freezer cooking leaves you cold?
Do you wrestle, almost daily, with the question: ‘Should we just get take-out?
If you answered yes to any of these, I dare you to give at least one of these tips a test run today. I double dare you.
What are you waiting for?
What about you?
I'd love to know which of these French-style meal planning tips grabbed your attention? What's your favorite go-to meal when the tough gets going? Leave me a message in the comments below. Au revoir!