Do you ever get excited about all the amazing things you’re going to cook, or get hypnotized by the beautiful colors in the produce section or farmer’s market?
I do. Food for me is like foreplay, and eating the meal is like…well, you know =) The greens talk to me and the peppers put a fire under my butt (literally). When the mood for food strikes in the grocery store, it’s easy to overindulge and buy…everything!
Then the high of life runs off, and at the end of the week, you’re left with wilted lettuce, limp celery, and moldy fruit. Now, that could be a container issue, but for most of us, we fall into a simple trap: we get excited about wanting to take care of ourselves (eating more plants), we take action without a plan, and we end up paying for it. It hits us on our waistline, our wallets, and on the produce god – Mother Earth.
I swear, she would smack me upside the head for how I used to disrespect my produce. But I changed some simple habits, and over time, the toll I paid in rotting food stopped being collected. And as I’ve worked with people over the years, I’ve found a pretty simple formula to help reduce your food waste and move towards actually enjoying taking care of yourself.
It starts with respect
Respecting your time, finances, and mother earth’s delicious babies that grow for us to eat. Food is that magical nourishment that keeps us alive. When we take the time to plan how we take care of ourselves, we end up being grounded in our decisions, focused, and have more energy to do the things we love. Who wouldn’t want a little more of that in your life?
The next step is to create a meal plan
This may sound simple, but I’ve learned that getting a meal plan started can be daunting. I tell my clients to meal plan all the time and they say, “Great, but what does that actually look like?”
Great question. Planning meals for the week can go many different ways. No way is wrong, it just takes time to discover your own rhythm, and learning to stick to it – well, that’s its own process. To help you find your planning rhythm, these are the questions I ask my clients when we do a mind mapping or food planning session.
First: Get clear on how many people you’re feeding. I know this might sound like a silly question, but take a minute and actually think about your week. Will you be having anyone over for a happy hour or dinner? Will the neighbor kid swing by and be starving for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? How much food do you need to really have on hand? This may change week to week, so take 20 minutes (or less) before you shop to plan. It will save you so much time and energy in the long run.
Second: Calculate how many meals you will eat at home. My husband and I have good intentions, but in all reality, I want takeout on Friday night and he eats lunches out with co-workers or customers maybe 2-3 times a week.
Third: Now add! Add up meals you’ll want to prep along with any surprises that may show. Remember to include snacks! (Don’t worry, I have an example below of what a week looks like for my family. Scroll down if you’re someone that likes examples or needs the big picture laid out to see for yourself how this may work.)
Forth: Get creative. If you make the same thing every week, it might taste okay for two weeks in a row…but over time you’ll notice the desire to hit the drive through or order takeout if your brain is saying “no more”. I use recipes for inspiration and tweak them to my liking. I’m someone that has a hard time following the rules. (This is why I’m a great cook and only an okay baker.)
Fifth: A note on willpower: Willpower is actually connected to blood sugar. When blood sugar is low, so is your willpower. Never go shopping hungry or hangry. You’ll end up with too many snackies and it’s not good for anyone – JUST DON’T DO IT!
Sixth: What are your intentions and habits? What types of food do you want to incorporate into your diet? I don’t meal plan just for the sake of saving produce or money. I also know that in our house, we eat what we buy. So this means I don’t buy a lot of snacks or chocolate because it won’t live that long. We are both the type to eat what’s in front of us, and it’s easier to stick to a plan of ‘more fruit, less chocolate’ by shopping that way, instead of trusting myself to choose that way later. Think of it this way – have you ever gone to a party with a buffet table? You know my eyes are going to be no more than two feet away at all times, whether I like the choices or not! (This is why I also eat before I go out, but I’ll talk about that down the road in another blog.)
Seventh: How many times do you want to go shopping? I personally only like going one time a week – maybe twice if I forget something. However, I have some friends who like to plan for, buy, and make a new dinner every night, or who don’t want to have the same thing to eat every day. This is great to know that about yourself! If this is the case, your shopping list might look more like dinner with enough leftovers for lunch – and that’s it. This is why I stress the importance of playing, and discovering YOUR preferences. I don’t have all the answers, I just know what works for my family, and that took time and practice.
Eighth: How much time do you really have to prep? I know if I cut it up, Mike will eat it. If I don’t have the time to do so…this is when produce goes bad. On those busier weeks we might pay a little more and buy pre-chopped veggies or fruit to save some time. Time is money to us. We can always make more money, but not make more time. It’s all a choice.
Ninth: Fun tip! To save time and resources, buy frozen. As sad as it is to admit, most frozen food is flash frozen – meaning it’s probably more fresh and more nutrient-dense than some of the fresh stuff on the shelves. It will also last longer if you might have one of those weeks that surprise you, or someone shows up for dinner unexpectedly.
Tenth: Play! Try different stores out, seek out new recipes, and keep it interesting. You can even play with different ways to meet your food priorities. Have you been to a farmer’s market in the last decade? If it’s important to you to eat in season, there’s no better way to get the best than from your local farmers.
Let’s break it down and do some math
In my house there are two of us, so this means in a 7-day week we need:
Breakfast: 7 meals (I eat breakfast at home) – smoothies, oatmeal, eggs
Lunch: 5 in, 2 out
Dinner: 6 in, 1 out
Snacks: 5 complete shakes, fruit, nuts, bars etc…
Celery: 7 bundles (Yep. I’m a celery juicer.)
Breakfast: 2 in, 5 out (he eats at work because there’s a huge room with tons of food, so why not)
Lunch: 4 in, 3 out
Dinner: 4 in, 3 out
Snacks: mid-morning raw veggies Monday – Friday.
Total It up
Meals In are where I put all my attention. Based on the number above I will prepare 2-3 main dishes (assuming they’re 4-6 servings each) and tons of healthy snacks to nibble on. “Healthy snacks” includes Mike’s raw veggies, my smoothie fixings, and enough celery to fill an entire shelf.
And voilà! We know about how much we need to buy
Know that I don’t do this math every week. I know by now approximately how much food we need based off our habits and lifestyle, but when we were a new couple living together, doing that math was how I learned those habits. Mike ended up saving $200 a week minimum from not eating out as much, although it took time to find our rhythm. So, stick with it, experiment, and try things on – that’s half the fun!
Still left with too much food at the end of the week?
If you’re like my mom and still make enough food for 5 even though the kids are out of the house, gift the rest to a neighbor or co-worker. I promise they won’t bite. They will be so grateful!! Nothing says I love you more than some leftover soup filled with love <3
My staple list for the week
Shhh this is a secret. We use a shared google doc in our house, and as we see things that need to go on the list, we add to the doc. The items I left as an example are a few of our weekly staples. At the beginning of the week, I just double-check this list to make sure we have enough. Then add in the needed ingredients based on what we are making.
Meals for the week:
Frittata (weekend breakfast)
Main Shopping list
Fruits: all organic (what’s in season)?
Veggies: all organic
“Dairy”: (we are a non-dairy house, it gives me too much gas lol)
Dry goods/ cans:
Specialty store (second run) for other odd’s and ends (this is here because the main store we shop at doesn’t always have all the items we like and the produce is usually better).
This isn’t about what to buy; you’ll have to discover that for yourself. This is more about creating a plan and being in the discovery of what works.
NOW GO PLAY!!!