While M and I were in pretty, pretty Seattle being tourists, we talked a lot about our grocery shopping, food budget, and meal planning. I'm a planner, and over the last few years, I've subscribed to The Fresh 20, tried countless meal plans out of books, experimented with different cuisines such as raw, vegan, vegan athlete, and meat-eater athlete. I've bought apps and downloaded recipes.
But I do admit that I get frustrated with every plan I try. The biggest problem is that there are just two of us. No matter how hard I try, it is next to impossible to scale down for just two. It's just not the way food is sold in our country. If we buy enough ingredients to make the dishes, we end up with left overs for days on end. And while we both love leftovers, we'd have all this other food in the fridge waiting for ITS turn to be cooked.
The arguments would go like this:
me: What's for dinner?
M: I dunno. I'm going to make soup. (Meaning he's going to make spicy Korean ramen out of a package.)
me: But I planned it already. That's not what's planned.
M: Then just tell me what's for dinner.
me: (looking at meal plan) Well, it looks like it's a vegan octopus sushi roll with a faux Yumm sauce topping and curled lemon zests swooped across the rims. Don't forget the curled lemons.
M: Ohmigawd, have you looked at this recipe? It's going to take 4 hours to make this. And you didn't put lemons on the grocery list!
me: Yes, I did. (I look in the fruit bowl). But then I cut them up to put in the water glasses.
M: I have to go get lemons.
7 hours later, we would either be sitting down to eat after 9PM, or I would discover that M had snuck out to get fried chicken to keep alive while I starved. This wasn't ideal. But because we care, many times, the argument resolved like this:
me: Well, if you're tired, I'm tired. Wanna have omelets?
M: I'm tired. Let's go out.
me: As long as it's not fried chicken.
Well, it's been fun, meal-plans. And I do believe that meal plans have the potential to save lots of money and planning energy for families of a larger size. And I enjoy having one signature dish a week to look forward to. But M revealed that all the meal-planning and the elaborate menus in the name of time saving was just making him not want to cook.
M: All the planning makes me want to curl into a fetal position under the table and only come out for ramen. (May not be an exact quote)
I really like to cook and I will do almost anything to eat at home. I guess I'm sort of a dinner homebody. And a breakfast homebody. Ohgawd, please don't make me get up, get dressed, and go out for an early breakfast for fun. I love diners, but I'm really more of a brunch girl. For love of all that's holy, just make me coffee in my house. (based on actual conversations in our house on Saturday mornings.)
So we had several goals:
1) Have lots of healthy, already cooked food on hand in the house so that when we got hungry or wanted to make a lunch, we just had to reach into the fridge to heat it up.
2) Have lots of food at home so that we are more likely to eat our home food or to bring it for lunches instead of relying on restaurants.
3) Keep it simple.
This is what my meal plan looks like now. We've given up on planning by days of the week. (Which involved a complicated schedule of who was home when and when to cook which element ahead so it would be easy to assemble on the day of... and hey, spreadsheets!)
SOUP: We make a huge batch of soup. The last two weeks, we've done a pea soup and a curried vegetable bisque. Both are loaded with veggies, beans, natural proteins, and spices that get in the news for their natural antioxidant properties, and are the type of soups that keep well. It took about 9 days to eat the batch of pea soup. We just made the bisque. So far, bonus points for soups we can make in the crockpot.
BOWL: I'm a little addicted to Yumm Bowls. They are basically bowls of rice and veggies with protein options. So I suggested, for our easy dinners, that we just do bowls. It breaks down like this:
Last week, the base was quinoa, the veg was roasted sweet potatoes and roasted squash. The protein was roasted tofu. The sauce was a miso gravy. We cook all the elements ahead and pack them into large rubbermaid containers in the fridge. A serving for me is ⅓ quinoa, a cup of veg, a ½ cup of protein, and sauce. I'm seeing if this keeps me full. M is generally double that, often triple for a long day. For love of Pete, work with your own nutritionist to make sure you are eating enough. I'm not working out very much right now, but during the height of the season, this would likely not be enough for hungry athletes! I've found out the hard way that eating too little or too few carbs makes you cry. Literally.
SANDWICH: We like sandwiches. So we make a bread and some fillings- so far, spinach, roasted red peppers, and tofu. This week will have tuna salad. Stay tuned for posts on the bread baking.
BREAKFAST: This part is a work in progress. M is currently obsessed with Irish oatmeal. He makes a big batch, and eats it with raisins and almond milk. Yech. I'm just not a breakfast person. I'm a lot better off if I can take something with me and eat midmorning, but I just have to get it in gear and make a bunch of bars or muffins ahead of time.
So that's our simplified meal plan. Four main areas, and we just eat this all week. It'll take some time to see how our food bills are working out. But after this week's shop, I bet all I will need to buy for the rest of the month is just some plain, raw fruit for snacking. (Gotta love how I need to clarify that fruit is plain and raw these days!)
PS: About the almond milk. Yes, I have seen all the latest media about just drinking normal dairy and how almond milk is not the powerhouse it's cracked up to be. I am going to keep making my homemade almond milk because A) it's easy, and it's cheap, and I know exactly what is in it, and B) I'm lactose intolerant and ain't nobody wanna sit next to me on the Metro if I start eating lots of dairy again.