They always say necessity is the mother of invention. Why can’t it be the mother of your meal plan? You hate meal planning. You’re an inspiration kind of person. Planning seems so cumbersome and it feels hard to find the time to do it. You don’t know what you want to eat for dinner tonight much less five days from now.  Which means most nights are grab and go or a hodgepodge of leftovers.

Are you ready to embrace a simple method that combines planning with flexibility? If you hate meal planning. Let me introduce you to the perfect method for making summer meals easy – meal piecing.

Hate meal planning? Try “meal piecing” instead.

I didn’t come up with this term, I give full credit to Brandy Hickman, Inspired Nutrition Health and Life Coach for the term. Here’s how she describes it,

“Meal Piecing is kitchen therapy.  It is a way to have freedom and simplifying how we think about putting food together for our meals.  Having all these recipes and a long grocery list can be overwhelming. I like to help people discover what are their favorite proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains, good fats, herbs, spices and are and how to piece those together for yummy meals that can take very little time.  It is a way to find joy in the kitchen.”

I use a this basic technique with some of my clients. I ask clients to make sure they have their three favorite foods in each nutrient category on hand. If you have your three favorite vegetables and your three favorite protein sources on hand you’re more likely to eat them. That’s why we always have eggs, spinach, tofu and Brussels sprouts in my house. If whatever I had planned falls through or I find myself home alone on the weekend, I can make a meal out of tofu and roasted Brussels sprouts. I know I will eat the eggs with spinach or kale (one of my other favorite veggies) for breakfast. Keeping the kitchen stocked with the basics you enjoy will increase the odds that you’ll make a meal at home vs. calling in UberEats.

I love to plan but that love does bump up against the ever-changing landscape of seasonal foods available each week at the farmers market.  I can have a two-week meal plan and shopping list ready but then second guess everything when I see eggplant or poblano peppers have finally arrived. Each week something new is catching my eye at Farmers Market of the Ozarks and I find myself trying to adjust my plan to justify buying things that aren’t on my list.

With a busy July and August of events and travel, I decided to take my own advice and try to keep things simple. I set a goal to keep my “three favorites” stocked and try some meal piecing for myself. I also wanted to challenge myself to be efficient with the staples I keep on hand (like beans, quinoa and olive oil) and take advantage of the seasonal bounty.

How to meal piece dinner by shopping at the farmers market

I will confess to one “cheat”. However, it’s one that you can use too! If you sign up for their list, Blue Heron Farm will text you each Friday with what they will feature in their Standard or Everything Farm In A Box. If you want to use this easy button option, text them back with your preference and they’ll have it ready for pick up Saturday morning. You’ll already have a starting point for your creativity. You can fill in the gaps with all the other wonderful market offerings or a quick online order and pick up from Hy-vee (pick up is now free!).

Last weekend, I chose to do the Standard box which came with duck eggs, tortillas (or you can choose sourdough bread), cucumbers, zucchini and fresh herbs. I knew I could use the tortillas for tacos (a staple in my house and ready for leftover lunches), duck eggs for breakfast and cucumbers, zucchini and herbs for Zucchini and Chickpea Fattoush salad from Show Up For Salad.

An Everything box would also have added green beans, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, peppers and more herbs. I could have used the cherry tomatoes but I didn’t feel inspired by the other ingredients, thus my choice to go with the Standard box.

With one dinner down, I needed to fill in the gaps for two more meals. (Sunday nights are always black bean burgers.) Getting what I needed for the week could easily be done at the farmers market.

When you’re winging it, you should be prepared to make last-minute pivots. My original plan was to grab a couple of ready to eat meals from the Hungry Herbivore. Unfortunately, she wasn’t at the market that morning. This is why it’s always good to know what you’ve got hanging out in the refrigerator that needs to be used up before you go on a shopping trip. I knew I had vegan cheese and pizza sauce from a FitLife segment that were begging to be used. I picked up two mini-pizza crusts and extra garlic. I would use what I had (including the fresh basil I’ve been growing) and those two things to make marvelous pizzas for dinner.

True inspiration hit when I saw the sweet corn! I love the East West Roasted Corn salad from Salad Samurai. With cherry tomatoes, some extra herbs and the coconut we always have at home I knew I was all set.

What about breakfast and lunch?

Breakfast is a meal I don’t plan because I eat the same thing every morning I am home: scrambled eggs with kale and oatmeal. I get my kale from Farmers Market of the Ozarks (as long as it is available). Eggs are there too if you need them. Oats and chia seeds are pantry staples that I always keep on hand. Having a go-to breakfast saves you time, energy and often money. No more dashing through the drive up for overpriced coffee or an underwhelming breakfast sandwich.

If you like a little more variety, you could make a breakfast taco with those duck eggs and tortillas or a smoothie with fresh fruit and kale. You can pick up tea or coffee at Farmers Market of the Ozarks too.

Ideally, your dinner dishes would give you options for leftovers. If not, you can take advantage of ready to eat meals from The Hungry Herbivore if she’s there or get extra greens,  tomatoes and onions for salads or Buddha bowls. I also highly suggest picking up some Raspberry Basil kombucha from Spring Branch Kombucha. You can use it to make fresh tangy salad dressing by mixing ¼ cup kombucha with ¼ cup EVOO, 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp honey (also at FMO) and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Let it chill for 30 minutes (or longer if you can), blend well and sprinkle over your favorite salad.

Don’t forget your snacks. You’ll find a variety of nuts and dried fruit almost any time of year but take advantage of snacking on the seasonal delights like peaches and nectarines. You can also get vegan energy balls and protein brownies from The Peaceful Baker.

Even if you still have to stop at the grocery store on the way home or after work, it will take much less time and energy because you’re only filling the gaps. Grabbing some almond milk or cauliflower rice should only take a few minutes. You might even be able to delegate that to someone else in the house.

If you hate meal planning, meal piecing is the perfect middle ground answer the “what’s for dinner?” dilemma. But here is the most important thing I want you to remember about meal piecing. It is about allowing yourself to relax a little and building a better relationship with food. This kind of food freedom is about learning to trust your instincts about food and rely less on stringent rules.

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