Simplify Your Life: Meal Planning

This month, I wrote a blog on Meal Planning for my friends at Simplicity Organizers. They have been the organizing experts in Charlotte for more than 10+ years, and specialize in all things home & office organization. My favorite area of organization includes the kitchen (duh) and meal planning, so I was honored to write a few tips I’ve picked up through the years. 


Simplify Your Life: Meal Planning

It all started almost 12 years ago. I was a newlywed and the only thing I knew how to cook was scrambled eggs (and “fancy” ramen, where you add in vegetables to those $0.29 packs of noodles, but I don’t think that really counts). I wanted to learn how to cook, but more importantly, I was also trying to manage our newlywed finances as well, so I wanted to learn how to cook efficiently. Thus began my love affair with meal planning.

Fast forward to the present where I find myself trying to balance work, married life and the manic whims of a precious 3-year-old. Once again, I’m in a place where meal planning is ESSENTIAL for our finances, for our health and also for our sanity.

So, how can we simplify our meals and routines? How can we reclaim peace and joy in cooking?

Do a quick Google search and you will find hundreds of websites giving you “7 Tips” here and “10 Steps” there to simplify your meal planning. Hours and hours go by, hundreds of clicks to and from sites on Pinterest, and you might still end up totally confused and unsure of how to actually get started. I’ve been meal planning now for 12+ years, and I feel like I’ve tried it all. Through it all, I’ve discovered a few successful ways to simplify our lives (& our food budget) by meal planning:

Plan One Week at a Time: Gather your family calendar and decide how many nights you can cook at home vs. take-out/going out to eat. Everyone’s schedules are “so busy” these days, so plan which nights you WILL cook…aiming for at least 3-4 per week.

If you’re really ambitious, try meal-planning for two weeks. Calendars, practices, appointments, etc., are typically set in stone for at least two weeks at a time. I am usually at my MOST efficient financially and with groceries (avoiding food waste) when I plan a couple weeks at a time. Flexibility is key, groceries can carry over, and impromptu nights out don’t matter as much because you can move that night’s meal to the next open night.


Take Stock: What items do you already have? A huge part of simplifying your meals, is simplifying your ingredient list. Try to cook 5-6 ingredient meals. Use healthy, whole ingredients when possible; simple, unprocessed and whatever produce is on sale that week.

NOTE: Taking stock of your pantry and fridge are a LOT easier to do if they are organized ahead of time. Before you get started with meal planning, take an hour to go through and organize; dispose of expired food and group by “like-items” (cans, grains, breakfast stuff, etc., in the pantry and fruit, veggies, dairy in the refrigerator). Store items in clear bins or baskets for easy visibility.

Click here to read the complete blog over at Simplicity Organizers.

Sobremesa | Summer Dinner Party

Last month I had the honor of hosting the first Sobremesa dinner party in Charlotte. Sobremesa is a global dinner concept created by the lovely minds at Sunday Suppers in New York.

I wanted to start small for my first dinner, just to make sure I was equipped with space, and it turned out to be perfect. The ladies at Sunday Suppers thought of EVERYTHING. They sent a wonderful host guide, complete with recipes, printouts of the menu, beautiful photos of what the food should look like, resources for the obscure ingredients like the squid ink, all the seasonings/spices for the recipes, and a highly enjoyable Spotify playlist for the evening’s festivities.  I felt so supported and so prepared to host, it made it so enjoyable for me.


Typically at a dinner party, I revert from my extroverted tendencies and end up hiding away in the kitchen — cooking, prepping and avoiding small talk like the introvert I’m not:) There’s something about the kitchen that calls me, and it’s where I feel the MOST comfortable and at ease. The sounds of stress and the hustle of getting the meal together are my love song. Weird, I know.

My favorite part of the hosting kit was the prepping/cooking guide they provided. The attention to detail in laying out when I should start prepping and cooking the different components of the meal was absolutely incredible and so helpful. At no point was I stressed. It was probably the first large meal I’ve made without stressing out one bit, and that made it so much more enjoyable for me…from beginning to end. I could ACTUALLY sit and enjoy the meal myself.

What I loved most about this dinner is that it brought together people from all over. New faces, familiar faces from all walks of life. Dear friends and new friends, we all were lovers of food, conversation and enjoying a meal together, and that’s really what made the evening SO incredible. A communal meal shared over great conversation is what beautiful food was made for!

If you missed this one, no worries, I’m planning to host more of these dinner parties — the next Sobremesa night will be in the Fall, so stay tuned!

As for the menu, here’s what was served:

  • Frutas w/Lime & Sumac
  • Sopa de Lima (my FAV!)
  • Roasted Curried Cauliflower & Pickled Veggies w/Handmade Squid Ink Tortillas
  • Cacao Black Beans w/Queso Fresca
  • Charred Tomatillo & Jalapeno Guacamole
  • Chocolate Avocado Pudding w/Toasted Hazelnuts

Since hosting this first meal, my gears are grinding and I’ve got some great ideas for the next dinner, so stay tuned for more info as we get closer.

<3 Jess

*On another note, I’m grossly behind in posting and I think up next will be my recap of my summer week of freedom. It WAS amazing in so many ways, so I think I’m ready to put it all into words….soon:)


Making Plans, Taking Names

Next week. It’s on.

It just so happens that the same week Jay will be out of town for Appalachia Service Project with his youth group, Lady Amelia Rose will be livin’ it up with her Grandma…which means, Mama gets a week to herself. A whole entire week.

I truly love my people — our little tribe of 3 — but it’s in my DNA (and all of ours, really) to relish in a little dose of “me time” every so often. Jay’s all about it. He, too, knows the power of “off time” where we can catch up on dreaming, scheming and all the things we tend to push aside in lieu of the daily routine. We don’t get to do it often, but when we do, it’s magical. It’s my official #SelfCare week. Lots of cleaning, lots of organizing, lots of meditating and exercising, lots of facial masks and even treating myself to a deep tissue massage.


Last year’s #SelfCare week with my girl, MK <3

I’m starting to plan my week, and so far, it includes a little bit of work, a little bit of cleaning, a little bit of catching up with friends and a LOT a bit of eating delicious food around the QC.

Amelia’s heading out of town on Friday, so Jay and I will have some much needed US time before he leaves on Sunday. I’m catering a Spanish Tapas-themed graduation party on Saturday (woot, woot! pictures to come!), celebrating some dear friends’ retirements on Monday and then it’s ON.

So far on the agenda, I think I might go on a quest to find the BEST DANG cappuccino in Charlotte. I plan to try a different coffee shop each morning (Looking at you: UndercurrentHexNot Just CoffeeQueen City GroundsTrade & LoreCoco & The Director…anyone else I should add to the list??)

I’m also planning to visit some of the the newer restaurants in the QC that are on my bucket list…The Stanley, Fin & Fino, and more. And maybe even venture to dinner by myself.

But first, a story. A few years ago when I traveled to San Francisco for my National Geographic Photography Workshop, I had one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I arrived in San Fran, checked into my AirBnB and then walked around the Mission District to find dinner. Being alone, I shyly planned to grab something quick to bring back to the apartment. Fate had other plans, instead I found myself in an adorably quaint pizza shop around the corner. As I was about to inform the hostess of my takeout plans, when I was overcome with this need to stay for dinner. To sit, by myself.

I had never done that before. I was turning 30yrs. old later that year, and in this particular journey of self-discovery at the time, I was led me to take a seat at the bar, alone. I made a conscious decision NOT to pull out my phone to aimlessly scroll the interwebs while I sat in isolation, and it was the BEST decision. Instead of shutting out the world with my phone,  I watched the chefs handcraft every pie, meticulously and intentionally arranging each ingredient. We chatted as they cooked. The waitress and I talked for the longest time about traveling and how this was my first trip traveling alone. Next thing I know, the owner of the restaurant was pouring a glass of the most incredible red wine from their neighbors in Sonoma. I stayed for what seemed like hours. We talked and laughed, drank wine and shared stories of food, traveling and life. The chefs started experimenting and creating random dishes, insisting I taste-test each of them. As the night wound down and I asked for the check, the only thing listed was my salad….everything else was “covered.”

You guys, it was incredible. It was an experience I would have missed out on had I A.) gotten take-out or B.) taken the introverted route with my phone in my face.

So, here I am in my own City, and I am looking for THAT kind of experience again. Sure, I’ll spend some of the week catching up on practical matters like work, cleaning, etc., but more than that, I want to take advantage of this gift of time.


Yes, I could eat this entire platter by myself. <3

Time to slow down.
To slow down and notice.

I don’t want to just “eat food”, but experience the richness of an incredible meal shared with friends or even shared with just myself.

I’m on the lookout, I’m making plans. Send any and all suggestions my way!! Any places that you’ve been wondering about? I’ll try them and report back…OR you can even join me.

Shoot me a message or leave a comment. I can’t wait. I’ll report back next week:)

<3 Jess