The minimalist approach to simple dinners

April 6, 2017
The Minimalist Approach to Simple Dinners, Weeknight, For Beginners, Template, Tips, Cooking Tips, Organization, Meal Plan, Meal Planning, Meal Planning Ideas, Menu Plan, Menu Planning, Grocery List, Grocery Shopping, Recipe, Dinner Ideas, Minimalist Cooking, Simple Cooking, Minimalism

Stressed about what to eat for dinner? (umm, who isn’t?) As a minimalist cook, I’ve got a stupidly easy approach to simple dinners that works. Errtime.


I wasn’t going to post this recipe but then I figured I had to prove that dinner isn’t always a one dish wonder. Plus, turns out that this little recipe turned into a “teachable” moment of sorts, and another reminder that dinner doesn’t need to be that complicated, fancy or stressful.

Let’s dig in.


The minimalist approach to simple dinners

When it comes to your average Tuesday night, dinner will likely fall into one of three categories:

  • a one pot / pan / dish meal
  • a twosome
  • a three—um, yeah, walked right into that one—three-parter

When I’m stuck for ideas, often I will think of dinner in terms of these categories and it helps me narrow down my options, particularly if I already know I have an ingredient on hand (e.g. frozen chicken in the freezer, veggies that are about to go, etc.) that I can use.

We know I’m already a huge fan of the one dish approach so I want to focus on the two and three part dinners. These simple dinners are the easiest and quickest that I can think of so basically two or three ingredients that together, make up dinner.

Did ya catch that? This is important so I’ve bolded and underlined it for you.

I said ingredients. Not side dishes.

What’s the difference?

  • Side dishes are recipes that must be combined with other ingredients in order to become complete, whole members of your dinner. Inevitably, they require more effort and time.
  • Ingredients are standalone foods that you can serve as part of your dinner. Sure, you can spice them up with a few easy upgrades, but they are perfect as is.

As a minimalist cook, it’s important to focus on the ingredients that you can combine to make simple dinners. Save the fancy side dishes for birthdays, Thanksgiving or any day when someone else is cooking.


The formula for simple dinners

With that important distinction out of the way, let’s get to the approach shall we?

Now, not that we need to overcomplicate things, but here’s my “formula”:

All simple dinners should include, at minimum, two parts: a protein and vegetable. If you want, you can add a carb/starch or another vegetable for bulk, excitement and/or variety. That’s three parts.

Simple eh? My rationale is that all dinners should include the basics—a protein and vegetable—to give you the nutrition you need and keep you full. It’s also a combination that seems to work no matter the diet you subscribe to (no easy feat these days). Of course, I am not a nutritionist so adjust as necessary.

If nothing else, the goal is to give you a simple framework (can you tell I’m in business?) to think about dinner.

So, how do you choose your combination? There are two ways to go about it:

  1. Choose ingredients that you know go together
  2. Wing it based on what you feel like, what’s on special and/or what looks good at the grocery store

I typically opt for option 2 (aka the “fly by the seat of my pants” option) which has two benefits. First, it requires less planning so by default, it’s EASIER (and we can all get down wit dat) and second, it builds variety into your dinner routine.

Win. Win.


How to upgrade simple dinners

Once you’ve landed on your two or three part combination, you can stop. Dinner IS done. Simple dinners need nothing more than delicious ingredients roasted in a little olive oil and s&p in order to be complete.

And yet…

You can consider an upgrade (if you have the time, energy, motivation, etc., etc., etc.) By “upgrade”, I mean a lil’ boost to one or more of your ingredients. Think:

  • Herbs and spices (fresh or dried)
  • Crumbs or crusts
  • Sauces
  • Marinades
  • Toppings

The key to making this work for a Tuesday is having most (or ideally all) of the “upgrades” ready in advance. If not, I’d recommend going without because you’ll find yourself stressed and this is the complete opposite of what simple dinners are all about.

I’m probably 50/50 when it comes to upgrading. While I always know it’s an option, I equally feel no pressure to take advantage. I suggest you do the same.


Ideas for simple dinners

Likely you already have a few simple dinners in your rotation but here are a few ideas to get you going and/or provide a lil’ inspiration. Note that these are all three parters so remove one if necessary.

  • Chicken + asparagus + rice
  • Steak + broccoli + baked potato
  • Sausage + pepper + onions
  • Fish + sweet potato fries + green beans
  • Pork chop + cabbage + apple (ok, technically a fruit but anyway…)
  • Baked tofu + mashed potatoes + broccoli
  • etc. (can my vegetarians and vegans hit me up with more ideas?!)

You get the idea.


So folks, there you have it: an easy formula to fill one (or two?) of the slots in your weekly rotation with simple dinners. What are some of your favourite two or three ingredient easy weeknight dinners? Lemme know!

Easy greek pita pizza Avo smash on cauliflower steak and sweet potato fries

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