I found the above quote last night and immediately knew that it was the perfect lead-in for this first honest-to-goodness we’re-really-starting-the-process post for my simple food project. It embodies my biggest shopping issue perfectly!
I’ve been considering just how much to actually share publicly, and I’ve decided that sharing as much as possible is that way to go – both for accountability, and because it may be of use to someone else, so I’m going to dive right in and set the stage in terms of what I already know about where I’m at with my food, what I want and need to know, and what my first goals are.
To start with, my husband and I have set a food budget for our family of $1200 a month. The truth is, however, that I have rarely managed to keep within that budget since moving here to California. I actually have no idea what the real numbers are (mainly because I’ve been too scared to track them!), so you can see why sticking to a certain budget and considering the financial impact of our eating plan is a big part (and goal) of the simplifying process for me. I am fairly certain that if I can invite awareness to what I’m actually spending by tracking it closely, I can quickly bring the actual spending down to that $1200 level, and my first goal is to actually bring it down to $1000/month.
I have, in the past, committed to writing down everything that I spent on food. It has lasted for maybe a week, at most. This time around, since we’re looking at all of our finances at the same time in anticipation of our upcoming move at the end of the year, I purchased Cait Flanders of Blonde on a Budget’s Mindful Budgeting 2016 Planner. We’re tracking every dollar of everything we spend this year, and this perfectly designed planner is giving us the place to record everything, and helping with the motivation to do it. That in conjunction with our strict cash-only system will really help me know exactly where I stand with regards to food spending.
So one important aspect, for me, will be identifying what my food spending habits are, including what I’m buying (I am sure to identify when I’m biting snacks or something that is outside the regular meal plan) and how often. I’m anticipating that this will give me the information I need to make some necessary changes.
Moving on to the actual meal planning: I plan our menus for about a week at a time. That allows me to coordinate meals and sync them somewhat in terms of ingredients that I’m buying. I’ve had varying degrees of success in synching meals, so that is an area that I will be focusing on to begin with – using a few key ingredients that I’ve identified as being on sale for the upcoming week as a basis for the menu planning. To make things easier for myself, I will be using a combination of familiar simple recipes, new simple recipes I find, and creating my own dishes. My aim is to create two of the dishes every week for January, then reevaluate in February to see if I feel confident in managing more of them.
I think it’s important to note that when it comes to my meal planning, I plan the entire days, not only dinner meals. I found that leaving out breakfast, lunch and snacks would often result in me buying more snacks when I was out and running errands, skipping lunch entirely because I was too lazy/tired/busy to come up with something to eat, or just grabbing something quick that wasn’t very nourishing.
I’m sure that this sounds like an awful lot of work, and frankly, it is – but only on the one day a week that I really sit down and plan it out. I also have a few things that I can easily insert into the menu without needing to find recipes or give it a lot of thought: a green smoothie every mid-morning and a breakfast that includes eggs. I’m hoping to extend that principle of having some kind of routine for the meal to my lunches, dinners and afternoon snacks in order to simplify the planning process for those.
Whew! So that’s the beginning of my process. To sum up, my starting goals are:
- To bring the monthly budget down to $1000 (that’s $250 for every 7-8 days)
- To use simple recipes with fewer ingredients and shorter active cooking times
- To create my own dishes two nights a week
My plan is to give a detailed accounting of what happened the previous week – how the budget turned out, as well as how I followed the planned menu in practice and the recipes I created – along with what I’ve learned from it. I will also lay out the menu plan that I’ve designed for the next week. I’m not sure exactly what day I will be doing that, but it will most likely be on Sunday nights.
Wish me luck, and please feel free to follow along and join in if any of my ideas strike you as useful as I’m going through this simplifying process. Please let me know if you have tips or tricks that you find help you to keep things simple, healthy and affordable in the kitchen!